2013 TANC Conference Update: Conference Will Explore New Calvinism’s Relationship to Biblical Counseling
Rick Holland’s “Uneclipsing The Son” Part 4: Mr. Holland Was For Obedience Before He was Against It, And The Sonship / AF Connection
On pages 46 through 56 (most of chapter 4), Holland makes a case that the book of Job is all about Christ. Of course, New Calvinist believe every verse in the Bible is about Christ so that’s no surprise. Though I believe his exegesis is a stretch to come to that conclusion, these pages are by far the less ghastly so far and have some merit. In addition to making this point, he seems to slightly redefine the word transcendence as primarily the difference between two things, rather than something that is superior or not confined by immanence. I know, this seems like nitpicking, but Holland seems to use his primary definition to make some sort of strict dichotomy between the Son and the Father that effects how we perceive the Trinity, and such dichotomies tend to make me suspicious. Not only that, it’s eerily similar to the “objective” part of COG (the centrality of the objective gospel) which teaches that gospel reality is completely outside of us. This can subtly set up a prism that requires all realities about the Father to be seen through the Son, rendering the Father as true, but insignificant when compared to Christ; and in fact, our biggest problem—with Christ coming to the rescue. Of course, there is some truth to that, but that approach also makes me uncomfortable with what seems like an unbalanced view of the Trinity that can lead to bad places.
Nevertheless, what follows is much easier to expound on. On page 59, Holland reiterates what makes GS what it is: contemplative spirituality. Holland states on page 59: “In other words, we see Christ now, and the more we know Him and the more we study Him, the more we become like the clear image we see of Him. Looking for [emphasis mine. This is supposedly what job one is for Christians when reading their Bible] and seeing and gazing [my emphasis] at the excellencies, the glories of Jesus leads to greater vision, sharper focus, deeper awareness of Jesus and His permanent abiding presence. It elevates the soul to a higher vantage point of worship. We must learn to stare at the Son of God such that we are blinded to all the allurements of the world! All encumbrances aside, all slack hardeness aside, everything aside but…Him.”
Along with this statement being a superb specimen of how GS instructs followers to read the Bible, looking for Jesus only; and specifically, his “excellencies” and “glories,” the statement shows the kinship between GS and Sonship Theology. In a book Jay Adams’ wrote to warn the church about Sonship, he wrote the following:
“The problem with Sonship is that it misidentifies the source of sanctification (or the fruitful life of the children of God) as justification. Justification, though a wonderful fact, a ground of assurance, and something never to forget, cannot produce a holy life through strong motive for it.”
“Certainly, all of us may frequently look back to the time when we became sons and rejoice in the fact, but there is no directive to do so for growth, or even an example of this practice, in the New Testament….The true reminder of the good news about Jesus’ death for our sins is the one that he left for us to observe-the Lord’s supper (‘Do this in remembrance of Me’).”
Holland follows this up on page 60 and 61 with the usual GS slight of hand. On page 60, using John 14:21 as a point of reference, he makes several orthodox statements concerning obedience. He seems to be clearly saying that obedience is the gateway to a deeper love for Christ. He seems to be saying the same thing Christ is clearly saying in that text: obedience to Christ is synonymous with loving Him. In other words, obedience is a loving act (John 3:16).
I used to become perplexed by these sudden bursts of orthodoxy after reading page after page of “truth” seasoned with nuance because God’s people are not yet ready to accept that we have been supposedly living under a false gospel for the past 100 years. I calmly read pages 60-61 while enjoying a nice lunch Susan fixed for me. Two all beef patties smothered in pepper-jack cheese and jalapeños. No buns because I’m on a low-carb diet that is working fabulously (email me at email@example.com if you want the details). She also brought me a glass of tea sweetened with something other than sugar, but it was really good. Before I finished the last bite, Holland began to explain exactly what he means by “obedience” on page 61. He was for it on page 60, but on page 61, well, you see, what Jesus meant in John 14:21 is love and obedience are the same thing.
But you say: “Paul, that agrees with what you just said was orthodox!” Not exactly. I said that obedience is an act among many that is a demonstration of love. On page 61, Holland makes the point that they are the same thing, but obedience must be defined by love, and now we must ask ourselves what “love” is. Hmmmmm—get you hand on your wallet:
“So what does it mean to love Jesus? Yes, we’ve already seen obedience. That’s a given [I’m sure]. But [just like the “But”Light commercial: “Here we go!”] true Christians are distinguished from unbelievers not only by their obedience, but by their love for Christ. Let this question echo in your soul: Do you love Christ? Is He precious to you, as He was to Peter? Is He the hub of your faith and your life, [and here is the crux:] or have you made Christianity something of a way to live instead of a person to love?”
NOTE, after saying obedience and love are intrinsically connected, he makes a dichotomy that is impossible to distinguish in real life. How can one possibly distinguish Godly obedience from making “Christianity something of a way to live instead of a person to love?” It’s a false dichotomy that forces the reader to decide whether true love is a way of life or a “person to love.” And again, and again, regardless of a calling to live in a new way throughout Holy Writ, Holland does not qualify the statement.
HOWEVER, Holland then defines what this true love is on pages 61-67 after the pesky subject of obedience is relegated to its proper place in the back of the bus. He then breaks down a “biblical” definition of love into three categories: Love And Faith (p.61), Love And Understanding (p.64), and Love And Affections (p.66).
In the first segment, “Love And Faith,” Holland clearly shows this book’s kinship with the Australian Forum. I devote a whole chapter in my book, “Another Gospel” to Robert Brinsmead’s interpretive prism as taught by him and Paxton / Goldsworthy. Following this post, a full copy of that chapter can be viewed. On page 62, Holland describes faith as the “eye of the soul.” He then writes that Scripture is the lens used by faith and the Holy Spirit illuminates Scripture for one purpose and one purpose only: “Suddenly the Bible comes alive and we see Christ’s excellence, His splendor!” Hence, this is the EXACT position of the AF: the Bible’s only purpose is to obtain a deeper knowledge of the gospel, and the Holy Spirit will not illuminate anything else but that. Holland writes on page 63: “There must be a faith that engages with God’s Word on Jesus and estimates it to be the most important information in the world” [which then becomes the interpretive mode of operation].
Therefore, the Bible is for the purpose of plunging the depths of seeing the glory of Christ and nothing else. Any other information in the Bible that seems to be contrary to that thesis is descriptions of what Christ has done and should teach us more about Him instead of being an instruction book for a different “way to live.” All of the commands in the Bible are meant to show us what Christ has done for us already, and to humble us because we can’t keep all of them perfectly anyway. As I heard one pastor say from a pulpit about three months ago: “You can’t keep all of God’s law anyway, so don’t even try.” Pondering the volume of commands should also drive us to the foot of the cross and more dependence on Christ. Supposedly.
Therefore, the only logical conclusion is that obedience is a natural result of “Staring At The Son” (the actual title of chapter 5). But how do we know when we are committing the horrible sin of “obeying Jesus in our own efforts?” Well, because it will FEEL like it—that’s how you supposedly know, and Holland emphasizes that point throughout the rest of chapter 5. Throughout the book, Holland reiterates the same worn-out GS points made by Francis Chan (“When it’s love, it feels like love”), John Piper (“Beholding as a way of becoming” and joy is synonymous with faith), Paul David Trip (Christians are still spiritually dead), and Michael Horton (we only grow spiritually when we “revisit the gospel afresh”). The following is the chapter of my future book where the AF view of interpretation is dealt with—which is the same approach propagated by Holland:
“I gathered up jewels that others here and there had mined, and just put it together in a way that seemed clear and important to me. If I could, it would be easier to reply that I had copied the package from somewhere in particular, but I am not able to do that. What I was on about impacted others and sharpened others up – like Paxton and Goldsworthy – and Jons [as confirmed later: Jon Zens] and a guy called Edward Fudge and others along the way.” ~ Robert Brinsmead
Clearcreek Chapel in Springboro, Ohio is a good representation of the kinship between all of the elements in our genealogy chart ( http://wp.me/pmd7S-K7 ). One of the joys of this ministry is reconnecting family members with long-lost relatives. It is intriguing to see how remnants of the genealogy chart are all gathered at the bottom—thirty-something years later, but with family members like Robert Brinsmead and Jon Zens (the original patriarchs) missing. Heartbreaking.
Not only that, credit is not being given where credit is due; for example, Jack Miller’s Sonship Theology, which pumped new life into the centrality of the objective gospel (aka Gospel Sanctification and New Covenant Theology) after it received a brutal beating from Walter Chantry and others on the left side of the chart, is never mentioned at T4G, TGC, and SGM gatherings, even though the primary disciples of Jack Miller (Tim Keller and David Powlison) are major players in those movements. Could it be because the Sonship label was shot full of holes by Jay Adams and Chad Van Dixhoorn on the right side of the chart? It would really do my heart good to see the Sonship label proudly displayed at the 2012 T4G. I mean, we’re talking family here.
Though I will be writing about many of these bottom-of-the chart family reunions, Clearcreek Chapel is an excellent specimen. The “elder” in charge of their “adult education” is Christian radio personality Chad Bresson, who authors a blog dedicated to Geerhardus Vos. Bresson is a member of the Earth Stove Society which promotes New Covenant Theology. Bresson has recently posted a lengthy article on eighty elements of New Covenant Theology followed by four articles on the writings of Graeme Goldsworthy. Also, a post by Bresson that articulates how New Calvinists interpret the Bible using a lengthy excerpt from the writings of Robert Brinsmead drew a lot of heat from some readers: http://goo.gl/qbeS4 .
Bresson was a recent speaker at the John Bunyan Convention which is a yearly conference that fictitiously uses the name of Bunyan to promote New Covenant Theology (NCT). This year’s conference included two primary figures of NCT, Fred Zaspel and John Reisinger. The conference was held at Reformed Baptist Church in Lewisburg, PA and I have not ascertained whether or not it is a Continental Baptist church which are a small fellowship of NCT churches that split from Reformed Baptist circles over the NCT issue. The debate that fueled the split was primarily between the father of NCT, Jon Zens, and Walter Chantry. Reformed Baptist protestants staunchly proclaimed NCT to be Antinomianism and were not the least bit apologetic about the accusation. Jon Zens is now in the background, probably because of his close association with the likable, but controversial Robert Brinsmead.
While Bresson shows Clearcreek’s kinship with Jon Zens, Brinsmead, and Goldsworthy, the Chapel leadership as a group focuses heavily on David Powlison’s Theology of the Heart ( http://goo.gl/8UnBe ) and John Piper’s Christian Hedonism. In fact, the pastor of Clearcreek is a well known rabid follower of John Piper. It is my understanding that Piper’s Christian Hedonism is presented yearly in the adult Sunday school class. Paul David Tripp is a frequent speaker there and the Chapel was one of the pilot churches that “tested” Tripp’s book How People Change, which is based on Powlison’s Dynamics of Biblical Change.
The common thread that ties all of the family members together is the Australian Forum’s centrality of the objective gospel (COG). This core thread (COG) was primarily developed by Brinsmead and Zens. Though it includes what Brinsmead describes (in our interview) as a collection of jewels, there is no doubt that Brinsmead and Zens formulated the basic systematic theology that makes its present-day life possible. In regard to any such system prior to the Forum, Brinsmead stated: “I gathered up jewels that others here and there had mined, and just put it together in a way that seemed clear and important to me. If I could, it would be easier to reply that I had copied the package from somewhere in particular, but I am not able to do that. What I was on about impacted others and sharpened others up – like Paxton and Goldsworthy – and Jons [as confirmed later: Jon Zens] and a guy called Edward Fudge and others along the way.”
COG states that all spiritual growth comes from contemplating the gospel outside of us. Any truth that is placed in the same priority at any given time is said to eclipse Christ. Inside considerations (the inner us [subjective]) would be included, which relegates the new birth to a position of insignificance—paving the way for the total depravity of the saints, “The same gospel that saved you also sanctifies you,” and “we must preach the gospel to ourselves everyday” (coined by Jack Miller and aped excessively by Jerry Bridges). As this foundational thread (system) has weaved through contemporary church history, it has been endowed with an explanation of how it is experienced (Christian Hedonism); how it applies to life (Heart Theology); its view of covenants (New Covenant Theology); and an interpretive model that enables outcomes that fit together logically (The Goldsworthy Trilogy [research on how the Dutch Reformed movement and Vos may have influenced Goldsworty is still pending]).
In an introduction to a Christian Hedonism class at Clearcreek Chapel, Chad Bresson said, “This is what makes us unique.” While one wonders why the goal is to be unique, we all can agree that it’s family that makes it all so special.
In one of the more contemporary blogs dedicated to Christocentric hermeneutics, it happened—Robert Brinsmead appeared, and started a lot of trouble. The blog is Vossed World, authored by Chad Bresson, an elder at Clearcreek Chapel in Springboro, Ohio. According to a message preached there recently by another Clearcreek elder, the leadership considers Clearcreek to be a “New Covenant Theology” church. They are also very strong on Christian Hedonism (John Piper), Heart Theology (CCEF), and Redemptive-Historical hermeneutics which is the theme of Bresson’s blog. Bresson is also a member of the Earth Stove Society (dedicated to NCT).
Bresson posted an excerpt from the writings of Brinsmead that represented the beliefs of the Australian Forum (see chart in part 2) concerning the use and interpretation of the Scriptures. The Australian Forum (hereafter “AF”) included Brinsmead, Geoffrey Paxton, and Graeme Goldsworthy. The post was brought to my attention by a reader. Though one person who commented on the post was totally unaware of it—Bresson responded to him by launching a defense regarding the relevance of Brinsmead’s apostasy:
“There are two reasons your analogy doesn’t wash: 1. Brinsmead wrote this ditty during a time of his life (as SDA, no less) when he affirmed reformed theology. That this guy is now an atheist is irrelevant. 2. What Brinsmead says here isn’t anything different than what has been posted on this blog for the past three years. In fact, given the recent articles written by the guys at Southern [see bottom of chart in part 2], what Brinsmead writes here could have just as easily have been written by one of them.”
The reader responded this way:
“I didn’t toss an ad hominem attack. I am criticizing the doctrine you are pursuing; I am not attacking you personally at all. I didn’t know this guy is now an atheist. I don’t know anything about him.”
The post and all the comments can be viewed here:
July of 2008 is a long way from what the AF wrote in the 1970’s. Bresson and the Chapel are respected as being on the cutting edge of New Calvinism (hereafter “NC”), and notice that he said, “What Brinsmead says here isn’t anything different than what has been posted on this blog for the past three years.” When I read the Brinsmead excerpt, I immediately recognized the fact that NC, ie., Gospel Sanctification and Sonship Theology (hereafter “NCGSS) needs such a hermeneutic to appear (consistent) and function consistently. My point by point rebuttal of the Brinsmead excerpt posted by Bresson can be read here: http://wp.me/pmd7S-lq
Or here: Brinsmead
This post is the first that demonstrates that the top of the proposed genealogy chart looks the same as the bottom. Bresson and the Chapel are an excellent specimen representing the NCGSS movement—yet, Bresson states that what Brinsmead wrote some thirty years ago is representative of what has been written on his blog for the past three years. Furthermore, Bresson’s blog is also replete with Graeme Goldsworthy writings, who was one of the original three that made up the AF.
So what? Well, the original doctrine of the AF was a mixture of sanctification by faith alone, Seventh-Day Adventist doctrine, and “Redemptive” Historicism. Also, all facts so far strongly indicate that Brinsmead was the primary visionary and inventor of the doctrine—and he is now an apostate—not good. Most Christians don’t buy into the idea that God used an unsaved person to reveal something “new” to God’s people, especially someone who became apostate after leaving a cult! Moreover, nobody can deny that Goldsworthy is the darling of present-day NCGSS hermeneutics, and that he was also one of the original three that made up the AF.
I know I start a lot of articles this way, but I can’t say it enough: foul doctrine yields bad results. Before I get to the information that prompted this post (sent by a reader), what do I mean by “New Calvinism”? NC is a massive movement (supposedly a new reformation) sweeping across the world like a giant tsunami. It encompasses Sonship Theology, Gospel Sanctification, New Covenant Theology, Christian Hedonism, Redemptive Historical Hermeneutics, and Heart Theology. The movement has totally rewritten orthodox Christianity, and soon (if not already the case), considering seminary graduates for ministry in the local church will be a prohibitive risk. Dumbed-down congregants by the masses are ever-waiting with bated breath for the next profound unction to proceed from the mouths of New Calvinist gods. John Piper, who often writes and says outrageously unorthodox things—has over 300,000 followers on Twitter. One wonders if Christianity has ever been inflicted with such a large percentage of koolaholics, as others stand aghast and bewildered regarding the growth of this movement.
The leaders of this movement realize more and more that they can get away with saying and doing anything, and at times seem to be amused themselves at what they get a pass on. Hence, they now worship each other openly—dead or alive. Recently, a group of New Calvinist leaders wrote a book of essays for the purpose of praising John Piper. One of the authors that contributed to the book was none other than John MacArthur Jr. He also wrote a glowing forward in a book written by Piper that was full of outlandish statements. The essay book was presented to Piper at a conference (as a surprise) by his fawning protégé, Justin Taylor. Yes, they wanted to sing his praises—apparently for his great service to Christianity in developing a theology called “Christian Hedonism.” No, it isn’t a dream.
So then, no surprise that Chad Bresson, radio personality and elder at Clearcreek Chapel (a well known and respected church in the NC network), held a tribute to Geerhardus Vos at his grave. Geerhardus Vos is the supposed father of Redemptive-Historical Hermeneutics, a tenet of New Calvinism. But not really, the hermeneutic was developed by a liberal theologian in the eighteenth century—Vos supposedly redeveloped the hermeneutic and took it in a more conservative direction. He developed the hermeneutic into the very orthodox sounding name of “Biblical Theology” which is anything but. “Biblical Theology” was the theme of this year’s Gospel Coalition convention. Per the usual deception of the movement, the term “Redemptive-Historical” was rarely used, if at all because “Biblical Theology” sounds, well, “biblical.”
Bresson brazenly posted photographs of the tribute on his FaceBook page, but why not? After all—who’s going to call him on it? The photograph below shows Bresson reading writings by Vos graveside. One of the comments on his FB page in reference to the pictures said the following: “Standing in the midst of the obvious decay that is the hallmark of the already, speaks of the inbreaking ‘not yet’ through lumped throat and wet eyes.” Creepy, no?
Though I would be amiss not to mention the contrast between this behavior from New Calvinist gods and their supposedly everything Jesus theology, the fact of the matter is, they get a pass on all their hypocrisy, contradictions, and doublespeak as well. As Bresson has written or said on many occasions, he has a major problem with the belief that there is a future for national Israel because that’s eclipsing Christ with a sliver of geography. Apparently, it’s alright to do that if one of the gods of New Calvinism is under the sliver.
I own a couple of online bookstores and enjoy reading some of the older Christian books. As I was entering books the other day, I picked one up from the stack entitled “The Infallible Word” written by the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary, the one in Philadelphia. The book is a real keeper; It is in very good condition, and is the third revision of a symposium on the doctrine of Scripture. It was written in 1946, and the third revision (the copy I have) was printed in 1967. The forward is written by Dr. M. Lloyd Jones. Apparently, the contributors are from the Westminster faculty of that time (1946) as follows: John Murray; Edward Young; N.B. Stonehouse; John Skelton; Paul Wooley; R.B. Kuiper; Cornelius Van Til.
As Dr. Masters of the Metropolitan has noted, New Calvinism’s claim of historical precedent is far from impressive. And as others have noted, New Covenant Theology (which is joined at the hip with New Calvinism) was probably conceived at Westminster around 1980. So, when I picked up the next data entry and realized what it was, my first thought was, “this should be interesting.” Yes, especially with Paul Wooley stating in the Preface: “It continues to be our conviction that this is the basic position of the divines who made up the Westminster Assembly which convened in 1643…”
There is no room here to state all of the glaring contradictions between Old Calvinism and New Calvinism provoked by the reading of this book, but I will rather focus on what New Calvinism and its tenets (NCT, Gospel Sanctification, Heart Theology, Christian Hedonism, and Redemptive Historical Hermeneutics) should stand on, or fall: its view of Scripture.
First, the faculty didn’t share New Calvinism’s Christocentric view of Scripture. Their view of Scripture was very similar to traditional Evangelicalism, which is disdained by proponents of New Calvinism. Before I continue, I might also add that Geerhardus Vos and his Biblical Theology is not once mentioned in the book, or if it is, I certainly missed it, and he (Vos) definitely appears nowhere in the index of names. Instead of “gospel” being used to refer to Scripture (actually, I remember “gospel” being used once, maybe twice, in the whole book), the term that all faculty members used throughout the book to describe Scripture, seemingly on every page, was “the objective divine authority.” Throughout the book, the emphasis was *objective authority* NOT *gospel narrative.* John Murray states the following on page 29:
“It is precisely in this estimation of the Scriptures and in such illusion to them, as not only prophetic of what took place in the fullness of time but also as having direct bearing upon the most practical and abiding of Christian duties, that the New Testament abounds.”
Got that? The Scriptures are not only about what took place in “the fullness of time” (ie., the gospel), but “also” have a “direct bearing” on practical Christian “duties.” To the New Calvinist, this statement is barley less than heresy. Furthermore, *obedience* to the *authority* of Scripture is a constant theme throughout the book. N.B. Stonehouse further elaborates on page 99:
“It is our conviction that the idea of canonicity has meaning and validity only if Christian theism, the theism of the Bible, is true. Implicit in the idea of a divinely authoritative Scripture is the thought of God as self-existent and self sufficient, the creator and ruler of the universe. His works necessarily constitute a disclosure of his mind and purpose.”
Not only does this make my prior point, but introduces another: this is a far cry from John Piper’s Christocentric assertion that God “entered history through the works of Christ.” No, redemption entered history as a disclosure of God’s mind and purpose. This leaves room for other things God may want to disclose about Himself, obviously. And this was also the position of the Westminster faculty. In fact, Edward Young attributes Luke 24:44 to the idea that Christ was speaking only of those scriptures that He prophetically and historically fulfilled, not New Calvinism’s idea that all Scripture is Christicentric. Here is what he said on page 61:
“What, however is meant by Christ’s use of the word “psalms”? Did he thereby intend to refer to all the books in the third division of the canon, or did he merely have in mind the book of Psalms itself? The latter alternative, we think, is probably correct. Christ singled out the book of Psalms, it would appear, not so much because it was the best known and most influential book of the third division, but rather because in the Psalms there were many predictions about himself. This was the Christological book, par excellence, of the third division of the Old Testament canon.
Most of the books of this third division do not contain direct messianic prophesies. Hence, if Christ had used a technical designation to indicate this third division, he would probably have weakened his argument to a certain extent. But by the reference to the Psalms he directs the minds of his hearers immediately to that particular book in which occur the greater number of references to himself.”
Hence, in the estimation of the Westminster faculty during that time, the whole Bible isn’t a “Christological book, par excellence,” as it is more than fair to say of the New Calvinist mantra, but only the Psalms, which is a “particular” book having a “greater number of references” to himself. “Greater number” of…, obviously implies that their view wasn’t in alignment with a comprehensive soteriology, but rather the latter being among other revelations of God’s will and character, although a major theme.
Secondly, along the lines of Scripture, the faculty did not share the New Calvinist / NCT view that Christ came to abolish the Old Testament Law by fulfilling it, but rather fulfilled it to FURTHER ESTABLISH ITS AUTHORITY. John Murray makes this clear on pages 20 and 21 while commenting on Matthew 5:17-19;
“ The word ‘destroy’ (kataluo) is particularly significant. It means to abrogate, to demolish, to disintegrate, to annul or, as J.A. Alexander points out, ‘the destruction of the whole by the complete separation of its parts, as when a house is taken down by being taken to pieces.’ His emphatic denial of any such purpose in reference to either the law or the prophets means that the discharge of his messianic mission leaves the law and the prophets intact. He utters, however, not only this emphatic denial but also adds the positive purpose of his coming – he came to fulfill, to complete. And so his work with reference to both law and prophets is completory, not destructive. He who can speak in the immediately succeeding context with such solemn asseveration and imperious authority brings all that is involved in such asseveration and authority to bear upon the confirmation of the abiding validity, stability, and authority of both law and prophets. And not only so, but he also grounds his own mission and task upon such permanent validity, and defines his work in terms of fulfillment of all that the law and the prophets provided.”
Murray states here that Christ’s mission was grounded in the permanent authority of the law and the prophets. Could there be a more antithetical statement in regard to New Covenant Theology?
Lastly, Stonehouse makes it clear what the Westminster faculty believed in regard to a centrality of Scripture on page 107:
“ To put the matter in concrete and specific terms, Christianity began as a religion of a divine book, as a religion of authority which definitely acknowledged a book as an objective expression of the divine mind and will. Were it not that so many modern writers have approached the study of the New Testament cannon with the assumption that Christianity is basically not a religion of authority but a religion of “the spirit,” it would hardly seem necessary to emphasize the point that the idea of an inscripturated canon, far from being uncongenial to Christianity, forms an integral element of the Christian faith from the beginning of its life.”
While this statement makes my aforementioned point, let me also ask: what is more indicative of New Calvinism than the claim that it promotes “the spirit” over the authority of Scripture? The Westminster faculty of that time even cautioned against the truth / tension of the illuminating Spirit being set against objective authority: “This doctrine of the inward witness of the Spirit does not sacrifice the objective authority of the Scriptures, as often maintained” (p.101).
Do I have to try to carry all of the water here? Somebody help me out. It seems that these guys (as I gather from my reading) were definitely Covenant theologians. But there is no way that the movers and shakers at the present-day Westminster Seminary are of Covenant Theology. If you believe that, I would like to tell that this book is personally autographed by Van Til with a gel pen, and it can be yours for a modest price of say, 200 bucs. You can’t separate New Calvinism from NCT / Gospel Sanctification, they are joined at the hip. What’s going on over there? It looks like a hijacking to me, and when did it happen? And how do these guys get away with pretending to be on the same par with Westminster tradition? I’m just asking.
From time to time, I cruise by the blog site, “Vossed World” authored by Christian mystic / antinomian Chad Bresson to obtain some conveniently packaged information for my writings on Gospel Sanctification. Bresson’s site primarily promotes Gospel Sanctification theology, though he never uses that term specifically. He is one of eight pastors “serving” Clearcreek Chapel located in Springboro, Ohio. Bresson is also a radio personality for CDR, a radio ministry of Cedarville University.
During a recent visit to the site, and after the usual progression of “huh?” And “what the heck does that mean?” I found an article where Bresson lists his 63 tenets of New Covenant Theology. This is convenient because I can address the tenets separately, and one at a time. The work is also a culmination of other NCT theologians.
But let’s first start with some background information. New Covenant Theology is new; I mean, really, really new.
If I remember correctly, Richard Barcellos, in his book, “In Defense of the Decalogue: A Critique of New Covenant Theology” places its significant emergence somewhere during the year 2000, a mere ten years ago. NCT is also intrinsically connected to Redemptive-Historical hermeneutics, Gospel Sanctification, Heart Theology, and John Piper’s Christian Hedonism. These five form a coordinated theology with RHH, HT, and CH being minor tenets, and either NCT or GS being the major tenet that encompasses the other four. The pastors at Clearcreek Chapel where Bresson functions prefer NCT as the major tenet while refusing to recognize the GS interpretive label, even though the senior pastor (Russ Kennedy) proclaimed any separation of justification and sanctification as an “abomination.”
Not only is it new, the very conception of four of five of its intrinsic tenets can be traced back to one source, Westminster Seminary. One writer notes the following:
“It [NCT] seems to have originated at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia as a reaction to the teachings of Theonomy, which over emphasizes Old Testament law. In recent decades it has achieved an increasing degree of acceptance among many Reformed Baptists. A scholarly refutation of these new [emphasis mine] ideas has long been needed” (David Marshall, Trinity Reformed Baptist Church, Hamilton, New Zealand).
My point is: there was a time when these facts would cause a teaching / theology to be rejected out of hand. But no more. There can be little doubt that we are in the time the apostle Paul warned would come; it is a time where people will heap to themselves teachers with itching ears. Chad Bresson himself once said that such doctrines are what “makes Clearcreek Chapel unique.” Is it our goal to pursue niche doctrines for the sake of being unique? I think not.
Here are Bresson’s NCT tenets. I will post four or five parts according to Bresson’s catagories, Interpretation, Covenants, The Law, The Church, and Israel. My contentions are in brackets:
“ What is New Covenant Theology?
This is a repost from Christ My Covenant, which published a list I have drafted over time to answer questions put to me about New Covenant Theology. It is a work in progress [usually, that is the case with NEW doctrines], and to be honest, isn’t simply a reflection of my thought, but others…especially those in the Earth Stove Society. I’m also indebted to Gary Long, who drafted his own set of NCT tenets some time ago…. some may even see this as an expansion of his work.”
What is New Covenant Theology?
Chad Richard Bresson
Interpretation of the Bible
1. 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 cults and isms distort the Trinity by overemphasizing one member over the other. The Jehovah Witnesses overemphasize the Father – Charismatics overemphasize the Holy Spirit, etc. Furthermore, Scripture does not say that all reality is seen through Christ. This statement is an invitation to unbridled mysticism, especially the idea that some sort of Christocentric prism (focusing on His personhood, rather than what He says) takes priority over revelation. Therefore, the plain sense of Scripture will often be replaced with a tortured attempt to see the gospel/Christ/redemption in every verse of the Bible, or the exclusion of Scripture altogether where a Chrstocentric context cannot be discovered.]
2. Christ in heaven has not only reached the goal of history and its reality, he Himself is the goal of history and reality, giving meaning to all that has occurred in human history and will occur in human history. Since it is Christ who gives meaning to human history, he is the One who interprets all of the deeds and acts of God in history.
[Though partly, and gloriously true, it contradicts the idea that we also look for other things in history besides Christ. Other than rewards, Peter said we “look (wait) for new heavens and new earth.” Christ came preaching the “good news of the kingdom.” The above statement is extreme and paves the way to interpret truth through a Christocentric prism devised by someone's own imagination.]
3. Special revelation, comprised of the 66 books that we call the Sacred Scriptures, not only informs us about God, but redeems us and makes God present to us, focusing on the person and work of Jesus.
[It's not “special” revelation, the Scriptures are “specific” revelation. Bresson carefully calls it “special” because NCT (the RHH part) holds that the Scriptures are only sacred when used for redemptive purposes. Hence, when Bressen says the Scriptures “redeem us,” us doesn't mean mankind in general, but “us” as Christians. This reflects the GS belief that Chrsitians are continually re-saved / justified by focusing on the “person and work of Christ” in the Scriptures, and that only. His careful word crafting also reflects the GS belief that Christ obeys for us, using “work[s]” of Christ in the present tense. Bresson calls this “the imputed active obedience of Christ.”]
4. New Covenant Theology interprets Scripture after the manner of Christ’s and the New Testament writers’ use of the Old Testament. Jesus and the inspired New Testament writers, by their use of the Old Testament Scriptures, have left us a pattern by which to interpret not only the Old Testament prophecies, but its history and poetry.
[Yes, this is known as the often touted “apostles hermeneutic.” Per the usual, it is Bresson's M.O. To exclude interpretive labels that could be used in a search engine. Many articles have been written for the purpose of asking the following question about the apostles hermeneutic: where is it? Matt Waymeyer presents the question this way: “What exactly is the 'apostles hermeneutic'? What exactly is this pattern that modern-day interpreters are to follow? What specific hermeneutical principles are modeled by the NT writers that should guide contemporary interpretation? Can they be stated propositionally? If so, what are they? If not, why not? Should these hermeneutical principles be applied consistently to all of Scripture, or only certain parts of it? If only certain parts, which parts, and why only those parts?” These questions have not yet been answered by anybody.]
5. The way that Jesus, the Apostles, and the prophets used the Old Testament is normative for this age.
[ Normative? Nobody has defined the hermeneutic!]
6. The entire Old Testament, the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, point forward to and anticipate the WORD Incarnate, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2). New Covenant Theology presumes that Jesus Christ, in his person and his saving acts, is the hermeneutic center of the Bible.
[Not according to Jesus. His “person[hood]” is not a “hermeneutic[al] center” of the Bible. Jesus didn’t emphasize his personhood as a matter of interpretation, but rather, “do what I say.” Neither did Jesus strongly emphasize his own “saving acts” when you compare it to His strong emphasis on obeying what He said, as opposed to looking deeper and deeper into His actions and personality. One is subjective; the other objective. Jesus’ mandate to the church was to “observe all that I have commanded,” NOT, all that I am and what I have done.]
7. A careful study of the way Jesus and the New Testament writers understand and write about the Old Testament shows that the Old Testament’s anticipated Messiah (and His work) is revealed in the types and shadows of the revelation of the Old Testament, both in God’s speech-revelation and God’s acts. The Old Testament provides the salvation context for the person and work of Jesus.
[Again, a “careful study” has not yet produced an articulation of the “apostles hermeneutic.” Also, note Bresson's fetish with continually writing about Christ's works in the singular “work.” This satisfies his obsession with the idea that Christ continues to work in our place, and that sanctification is His work alone, totally apart from us. The “work” of Christ has more of a present emphasis than the “works” of Christ. Also, Bresson doesn't like the idea that the many “works” of Christ had other emphasis apart from redemption. Yet, the Scriptures are pregnant with a strong emphasis on His “many works.” In fact, one would be hard pressed to find “work” in the singular when referring to Jesus in the Bible. One example would be John 21:25. Bresson wants us to believe that every one of Jesus' works that John was talking about (according to John, the world would not be able to hold all of the books needed to record them) had redemptive context. As we shall see, Bresson's teaching is continually fraught with extra-biblical, and other than Biblical terminology.]
8. The Old Covenant scriptures, what we call The Old Testament, are to be interpreted in the light of their new covenant fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Jesus is not only the interpretive key to understanding the Old Testament, the terminology of the Old Testament must be understood through and defined in light of Christ’s fulfillment.
[ If “Old Covenant scriptures” is a more accurate reference, why would the church traditionally refer to it as the “ Old Testament”? Again, Bresson's intent is to use theological sounding, but unorthodox terminology to spoon feed erroneous concepts. This is an attempt by Bresson to get Christians to see the whole Bible as a redemptive, Christocentric document only, divided by the older version verses the newer version. Also, if the new interprets the old, this gives the supposed ability to reinterpret covenants in the OT that aren't redemptive, like God's promises to Israel concerning land etc. Furthermore, the New Testament does not interpret the OT in every case; they interpret each other. The New Testament writers quote the OT extensively to make their points about many issues other than redemption. Regarding eschatology, OT revelation is critical to understanding end time events. But in many cases other than eschatology, the OT interprets the NT.]
9. New Covenant Theology is based upon a redemptive-historical approach to interpreting the Bible, understanding the fulfillment of all of God’s promises in Jesus Christ as they are progressively unfolding from Genesis to Revelation.
[The equation here is simple: making everything about who Jesus is and what He did redemptively, excludes the weighty issue of what Jesus commands us to do. The end game is the exclusion of the Law, or Antinomianism.]
10. New Covenant Theology presumes that the “now-not yet” principle of interpretation is essential to understand the teaching of the NT.
11. The organic historical connection, and the Christocentric unity that exists between the Old and New Covenants, guarantees the usefulness of the Old Testament for the church.
[But for “showing forth the gospel” only, and not instruction for sanctified, kingdom living.]
12. In the term New Covenant Theology we declare that God, for his own delight, has revealed himself and manifested his glory ultimately in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ and his complete and perfect work on the Cross through which he has established a New Covenant in his blood. (Heb. 7:22; 8:6; 9:11; 10:14)
[Though this statement sounds good, why is it necessary to add, “the Person of...”? We all know Christ is a person. This is continually emphasized (the “personhood” of Christ) by NCT advocates for the purpose of promoting a nebulous “intimate relationship” with Christ as opposed to a supposedly imperative based relationship from “mere duty.”]
13. The pinnacle of God’s unfolding revelation comes to us in the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ himself, by the New Testament Scriptures.
[In other words, “the word of God is a person, not an imperative.” “The word of God is a person, not a program to follow.” The word of God is a person, not a cognitive concept,” etc., etc. But when you get people sold on that jingle (the nebulous concept of Jesus' personhood, rather than an emphasis on what He expects), you can lead people anywhere, and believe me, Bresson does.]
14. The two testaments proclaim the same Christocentric message, but from differing standpoints.
[Where would I even begin to make the case that the Bible does not share Bresson's comprehensive, unmitigated, Christocentric view? Of course, soteriology is a major part of the Scriptures, but Christ himself presented the Scriptures as His instruction for sanctified living ( Matthew 4:4, 7:24-27).]
15. The New Covenant documents, interpretive of and informed by the Old Covenant documents, are binding for the new people of God until the end of this age.
[This is a disingenuous statement, and one needs to quickly ask: “binding in what way?” Trust me, Bresson doesn't mean that it is binding for the practice of Godly living. This is indicative of his deceptive double speak.]
“Therefore, any teaching that devalues the necessity of our obedience to biblical imperatives is detrimental to spiritual growth and makes us slaves to our emotions. We have this great hope as Christians: if we do not like where our heart is, we can do something about it and the Holy Spirit will help us.”
In part one, we looked at how teachers misrepresent the Pharisees as those who were proficient in upholding God’s word “outwardly.” Supposedly, the Pharisees were impressive in regard to their ability to do that, but only received condemnation from Christ as a result. The conclusion of the matter? You can’t please God by “trying” to keep the Law. And in almost every case where this thesis is presented in a sermon or Bible lesson the following is also continually emphasized: “You can’t be saved by keeping the Law.” This confuses the role of the Law in justification verses sanctification.
We also looked at the fact that the basis of this proposition is erroneous. The Lord’s primary beef with the Pharisees was not their “efforts” to keep the Law, but the fact that they modified the Law of God to fit their man-made traditions and rules (Mark 7:8-13). We will now look at the other erroneous part of this assertion; namely, efforts at keeping the Law are always an outward affair. In other words, obedience pertains to the outward only; so, because the Pharisees supposedly focused on obedience to the Law, they were only “cleaning the outside of the cup,” and were “whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones.” And since (don’t miss this) inside change is such a complex affair, we can’t “reduce the Bible to a bunch of do’s and dont’s,” and “live our lives by lists.” So then, since *all change* is from the “inside out,” and Christ is the one who changes us, what follows is many theories on how that happens.
And trust me, the theories are not in short supply. They mostly entail being wowed by who Christ is as a person which is learned from the scriptures and general revelation (creation). Therefore, change by enamoration; when we realize how awesome Christ is and what He has done for us, joyful obedience naturally follows without any effort on our part. There is also “intelligent repentance” which is a complex system of discovering sin in our heart. When we discover sin deep in our heart, and repent of it through prayer, our heart is emptied of sin, leaving a void which Christ fills with Himself, resulting in Him obeying for us. There is also the inside change by prayer only angle as well.
The above theories propagate the idea that obedience has no curative value and is merely a natural result (and therefore essentially outward) of something more complex; Christians have swallowed this concept hook, line, and sinker. However, biblical obedience is both inside and outside, and Christ rebuked the Pharisees for neglecting inside obedience; that is what He meant by accusing them of being whitewashed tombs. Let me explain. In Matthew 23:23-28, Christ confronts the Pharisees with both examples of the whitewashed tomb and cup that is only clean on the outside.
But first, in verse 23, it is very apparent that He chides them because they “neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.” These have to do with attitudes. At least one, mercy, is among the beatitudes listed at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount by Christ, and the other two have similar implications among the other eight beatitudes. In regard to the cup illustration, Christ said the Pharisees were “full of greed and self-indulgence.” Outwardly, they put on a show to appear righteous to others (so they probably didn’t even obey outwardly when in private), but on the inside of the cup they were greedy (selfish) and self-serving. This isn’t rocket science; for example, I was very comfortable on Susan’s couch last night while watching my favorite show on the Fox News Channel. Then Susan came into the dinning area (which is open to the family room), and started clearing off the table to get it ready to be set for me and four others. That’s when the Holy Spirit kicked me in the conscience and I was either going to die to self (obey) or not. My outward obedience in helping her set the table began with inward obedience. And by the way, she could have probably cared less if I helped or not; I did it to please Christ.
In verses 27 and 28, Christ uses the same kind of illustration (whitewashed tombs) regarding the fact that the Pharisees were full of “lawlessness” on the inside. In other words, their minds / thoughts were saturated with things like lust, covetousness, and revenge while being concerned with outward appearances to impress others (motives). One of the primary reasons God judged the Earth via the flood was the rampant lawlessness of the mind (Genesis 6:5). The fact that God calls for an inward obedience to Godly thinking is clear. Paul said in 2Corinthians 10:5 that we are to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
In addition, it is important to note that inside obedience and outside obedience work together to bring about change. Change is impossible without the inside work of the Holy Spirit, but *all* change is not from the inside out, it’s *both.* The Holy Spirit is our “helper,” and he helps us with our role in the sanctification process: inside and outside obedience (John 14:12-17). Regarding the fact that inside and outside obedience work together for change, let me illustrate. Here is what Christ said in Matthew 6:19-21:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The counsel from Christ to store up treasure in heaven rather than on Earth is imperative and precedes the location of our heart. Stop investing on Earth, start investing in Heaven. It’s a matter of investment; where we invest is where our hearts will be. Is it not obvious that many marriages have come to ruin because one or both spouses invested in a career rather than each other? We also see this in one of Paul’s imperatives: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). Ie., stop investing in evil, start investing in good. Cling to the one and neglect the other. Our love *must* be sincere, and the key is where we invest as a matter of obedience – feelings will follow. Also, Romans 12:2 plainly says how our minds are transformed; conformity to the mind of Christ rather than the world.
Therefore, any teaching that devalues the necessity of our obedience to biblical imperatives is detrimental to spiritual growth and makes us slaves to our emotions. We have this great hope as Christians: if we do not like where our heart is, we can do something about it and the Holy Spirit will help us. Paul said it like this in Philippians 4:8,9;
“Finally, brothers, 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.”
In this passage we have inside obedience, outside obedience, and the God of “peace” with us.
Brothers and sisters I beg you: flee from any teacher who toys with the biblical concept of obedience.
As previously discussed on this blog, New Covenant Theology, Heart Theology, Redemptive Historical Hermeneutics, and Christian Hedonism are the four pillars of the antinomian doctrine sometimes referred to as Gospel Sanctification. This doctrine is gaining rapid, widespread acceptance among evangelicals, and is so subtle that many teachers propagate its elements unawares.
New Covenant Theology argues that the new covenant replaced the Law with a new “higher Law of love” (or other such references like “higher law of Christ”). Heart Theology is the practical application of Gospel Sanctification’s narrow role in regard to our participation in the sanctification process. Christian Hedonism attempts to explain how Gospel Sanctification is experienced. But Redemptive Historical Hermeneutics is an interpretive prism that makes Gospel Sanctification plausible.
Gospel Sanctification, in a nutshell, synthesizes justification with sanctification and extrapolates the same means of monergistic justification into sanctification, reducing the role of the believer in sanctification to almost nothing, except for the same role we would have in justification. Heart Theology then attempts to answer the question: “So what are believers supposed to do in the sanctification process?” But all in all, the four pillars work together to eliminate an upholding of the Law *by believers* in the sanctification process.
Redemptive Historical Hermeneutics was developed by Geerhardus Vos and coined “Biblical Theology” sometime between 1894 and 1932 while he was a professor at Princeton. Most of what I have learned about this hermeneutic is from Ted Black’s “The Biblical Hermeneutics of Geerhardus Vos: an Analysis, Critique, and Reconstruction.” Black wrote the paper as a requirement for a project while at Covenant College located in Georgia. Two things should bring Vos’s approach into immediate suspicion: First, the complexity of it. Blacks Critique, though a masterpiece, is 150 pages of mind-numbing theology. Certainly, especially when one considers the Sermon on the Mount, the expectation of such a complex prerequisite to understanding God’s word does not seem likely. Secondly, it’s new, with similar theories nowhere to be found before the eighteenth century.
As I said, this theory of interpretation is extremely complex, but it primarily teaches that the Bible is a historical account of redemption. Hence, the name: “Redemptive Historical.” It goes without saying that not many Christians would argue with that, but what they don’t understand is that this theory of interpretation teaches that the Bible is exclusively a redemptive narrative concerning the works of Christ and nothing else. Therefore, as one example, what seems to be commands directed towards us in the Bible can now become commands that God knows we cannot obey with the intention of driving us to the one who fulfilled the Law on our behalf: Christ. In other words, when you look at Scripture through a Christocentric prism, the purpose of commands are to drive us to the knowledge that we are unable to uphold the Law, as apposed to the idea that obedience is our part in a covenant between us and God (but as a way of loving God and submitting to the Lordship of Christ, not as works for salvation) So then, when Paul the apostle referred to the Law as a schoolmaster that leads us to Christ, this can also apply to sanctification as well (supposedly).
This now sets the table for Black’s contention. He proposes on pages 53-62 of the above cited paper that covenants are a much more pronounced theme in the Scriptures than the works of Christ. He does this in a string of brilliant arguments, but I will only enunciate the ones I can best get my mind around. On page 59, he says the following: “As I argued above, the particular purpose of Gen. 1-2 is not redemptive, but covenantal—its purpose is the presentation of the covenant.” This brings to my mind (and I will use it to make my first point) the assertion by John Piper in his message at the the 2010 T4G conference that the theme of the gospels is redemptive because of how each gospel ends. This is also a continuing mantra heard among proponents of GS, that the end determines the theme. No wonder, because at the beginning of the Bible you have God as creator, and the God who makes a covenant with man, not redemption. Also, let me add that in a grand display of weak discernment in our time, nobody at the T4G blinked at what Piper said, regardless of the fact that the gospels do not even end with redemption as well, but rather Christ announcing that He had been given all authority by the Father and His mandate for the church. In fact, the Bible as a whole doesn’t even end with redemption, but rather the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth and the apparent restoration of God’s covenant with man.
Secondly, Black makes the point that the Old and New Testaments are structured / organized around the covenants. Each phase of Biblical history begins or encompasses a covenant. Also, he mentions the progressive nature of the Abrahamic covenant from Genesis 12 to the end of the Bible. When you follow Blacks reasoning as he unfolds his thesis in detail, you begin to see the dominant theme of God’s covenants with man throughout Scripture.
Thirdly, Black makes the point on page 57 that viewing covenants as a major theme in the Bible presents the Trinity in a more balanced, and biblical light: “Further, it appears that Scripture is not centered around Christ but rather around the Triune God, including Christ.” The propensity to present unbalanced views of the Trinity by GS proponents is an ongoing concern of great import. Obviously, if the Bible is primarily about the redemptive works of Christ, rather than His part in effecting the covenants between God and man, this is bound to happen, and for the worse. Black says the following on page 60: “The clear implication of this is that redemption, although a key theme of Scripture, and the distinguishing characteristic of any and all covenants of grace, is not the primary element of our present covenant in either its historical or inscripturated presentation, and neither was it primary in the past.”
But more importantly, Black, unlike proponents of GS, is suggesting covenants as a primary theme, not a single prism in which to interpret all of Scripture. I think he says the following on page 61 in sarcasm: “As such, and in different terms, we should understand that Scripture is not first and foremost based on the ‘history of redemption,’ but on the ‘history of the covenant’ I propose therefore, that we do not refer to our method of interpreting Scripture as ‘Redemptive Historical,’ but rather ‘Covenantal Historical.’”
By any measure, GS has a weak argument in regard to redemption being the *only* major theme of Scripture, and a far lesser argument for it being a single prism in which to interpret all of Scripture. Not only that, its unreasonably complex, and like its illegitimate child, NCT, which is thought by some to be only thirty years old, its way too new, implying that God’s children have been without a sufficient hermeneutic for 1900 years.
“This half gospel that excludes Christ as Lord also begs the question: when we get to heaven, can we call Christ ‘sweety-pie’? Or how about, ‘honey-bunch’?”
I wrote a review the other day on Francis Chan’s book, “Crazy Love.” In the review I state my case concerning the book’s overall antinomian theme. Basically, Chan attempts to make the same case echoed by Paul David Tripp in “How People Change”; namely, that a relationship with Christ isn’t about biblical imperatives being applied to life, but rather a relationship with Him based on “intimate” knowledge derived from creation and seeing Jesus in every verse of the Bible. After all, according to Tripp, “Christ is a person, not a cognitive concept.” This also apes the Postmodern notion that the Bible is a grand narrative and not a book of propositional truths. Supposedly, this deeper knowledge then leads to increased faith, which allows the Holy Spirit to do everything for us. John Piper calls this “beholding as a way of becoming.”
As I also stated, Chan’s book synthesizes Justification and sanctification, narrowing our role in the sanctification process to little more than faith only. Since our limited role in sanctification needs to be embellished, one of the weird concepts that has emerged from this contemporary antinomian doctrine is the idea that our relationship with Christ should be an intimate love affair, resulting in a mushy exuberance of love towards Christ and others. Hence, Chan’s book is replete with what I called “Jesus is my boyfriend” theology.
Well, just this morning I was coming home from being kept out too late by my girlfriend (this comment is just a test to see if she reads my articles; that’s my story and I’m sticking to it), and thinking to myself: “did I go too far in the article?” I kid you not, at that moment, a song by Jason Gray came on the radio entitled “More Like Falling in Love.” The words blew me away; the song is a perfect anthem for Chan’s book. When I got home, I googled the song and found the lyrics on a post by a girl named Christy ( http://community.livejournal.com/ljchristians/2504072.html). In a shocking display of discernment, she said the following in regard to the song: “….when I heard this new song, something gnawed at me. Perhaps I was being cynical, but I felt like the lyrics were emphasizing an antinomian “Jesus is my adorable boyfriend!” (By the way, I was in a church this morning where a praise song referred to Christ as the “Darling” of heaven). Christy then posted the lyrics:
Give me rules, I will break them
Show me lines, I will cross them
I need more than a truth to believe
I need a truth that lives, moves, and breathes
To sweep me off my feet
Its gotta be
More like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance
Caught up, called out
Come take a look at me now
Its like I’m falling, Ohhhh
Its like I’m falling in love
Give me words, I’ll misuse them
Obligations, I’ll missplace them
Cuz all religion ever made of me
Was just a sinner with a stone tied to my feet
It never set me free
Its gotta be
More like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance
Caught up, called out
Come take a look at me now
Its like I’m falling
Its like I’m falling in love
Deeper and deeper
It was love that made me a believer
In more than a name, a faith, a creed
Falling in love with Jesus brought the change in me
Its gotta be
More like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance
Caught up, called out
Come take a look at me now
Its like I’m falling, Ohhhh
Its like I’m falling in love
I’m falling in love
Hey Christy: “ya think?” Lately, this contemporary antinomian doctrine sometimes known as “Gospel Sanctification” is the gift that just keeps on giving; this has to be the easiest post I have ever done on the subject. This half gospel that excludes Christ as Lord also begs the question: when we get to heaven, can we call Christ “sweety-pie”? Or how about, “honey-bunch”?
In a recent post (http://paulspassingthoughts.wordpress.com/2010/08/08/i-always-do-dr-js-homework/), I comment on a post written by Jay Adams where he raises concerns about passive forms of sanctification running about in the church. He suggested that counselors have counselees make a list of all imperatives located in 1Corithians, and then ask themselves who the commands are directed to. Them? Or, (as he asked in a keynote address) the Holy Spirit? I just couldn’t help but to see the challenge as a homework assignment, and the results are documented in the above-mentioned post.
But as a former counselee under NANC counseling back when they were dealing with a full deck, I always learned from Dr. J’s homework that was part of the curriculum, and this assignment was certainly no exception. First of all, as would be necessary to state in the present climate, an examination of nouns, verbs, adjectives, ect., and how they relate to each other in 1Corintians would seem to indicate that all imperatives in the book are directed toward us. However, like those peasants that were “taught” by Jesus via the Sermon On the Mount, I haven’t yet taken any courses from Westminster Theological Seminary (which I am sure was located in Jerusalem at the time before Israel became the church) on *redemptive historical hermeneutics*. That could be critical because I recently heard from a counselee (being counseled by a NANC certified counseling center) that some counselors, you know, the advanced ones, are counseling people from *narrative diagrams* instead of cognitive literature. Yes, instead of instruction, the counselor drew a diagram of the counselee’s life and showed him where he was located in the diagram. Wow, Sweet dude, say amen and pass the bong.
But I learned much more than who the imperatives are directed at in the book of 1Corithians, I learned that 1Corithians does violence to Gospel Sanctification (the passive form of sanctification that I am concerned with) and its four pillars: NCT (New Covenant Theology; not all proponents of GS hold to NCT, but most do); heart theology; Christian hedonism, and redemptive historical hermeneutics. My post here will be far from a comprehensive list of examples from 1 Corinthians, but let me share some examples.
First, NCT teaches that the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) is an isolated unit symbolized by stone rather than “hearts,” (or “word” verses “Spirit”) and is indicative of all biblical imperatives, and is not applicable to the New Testament (ie., New Covenant), but was replaced by a transcendent “higher Law of Christ” that now interprets (the “apostles hermeneutic”) the Old Testament as partial revelation that was pre-designed by God for replacement. Paul’s statements in 1Corintians destroys this notion completely.
1) In 1:31, Paul makes a case for one of his points by citing Jere. 9:24, and prefaces it with the phrase “it is written.” This is the exact phrase Jesus used in Mathew 4:4 (before the New Testament was written), and said that man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Therefore, man also lives by every word in the Old Testament, including the so-called “Decalogue.”
2) Paul validates his arguments to the Corinthians by citing the Old Testament, often prefaced with “it is written” in 9:8, 9:9, 10:6, 10:7, 10:8, 10:9, 10:10, 10:11, 10;25-26, 11:16, 14:21-22, 14:34. Therefore, the OT often lends understanding to the NT and vise versa.
3) In 9:8 and 14:34, Paul calls the whole OT “the Law.” In 9:9, he calls the Pentateuch “the Law.” In 14:21, he calls Isaiah 28:11-12 “the Law.” The Ten Commandments is not “the Law” apart from the rest of Scripture, and therefore the focus of doctrine that separates its purpose from the New Covenant.
Secondly, GS teaches that all of our focus must be “change at the heart level,” resulting in obedience that is a “mere natural flow.” Paul didn’t get the memo. Paul was a strong advocate of what I believe Jay Adams calls “radical amputation.” In other words, life choices that present obstacles to sinning or an escape from sin. Said another way, change on the *outside level.* Clearly, Paul’s instruction for those who cannot control their lust was to simply get married (7:9). He also advocated obedience in regard to sexual relations to prevent temptation (7:5) By the way, I know of a specific case where adultery was the final death-blow to a marriage were depriving of intimate relations was a long standing issue. The counselor told them to disregard 1 Cor. 7:5 because what they really needed to do was get to the “heart issues.” In 10:14, Paul says to “flee” from adultery. In 11:31, Paul said to judge ourselves to prevent judgment from God in our lives. He also uses fear of judgment from God to motivate us to behave in 10:8 (sexual immorality), 10:9 (provoking God), and 10:10 (grumbling).
Also, it may be noted that Paul advocated the redirection of desires through obedience: 14:1, 14:12, 14:15, 14:18, and a strong emphasis on exertion regarding self discipline (9:25, 9:27).
Thirdly, Christian hedonism stands against obeying God from the perspective of duty, rather than pure motives supposedly marked by joy. Again, Paul didn’t get the memo. In 7:3, he commands husbands to fulfill their marital “duty” to their wives.
Fourthly, in regard to redemptive historical hermeneutics:
1) RHH teaches that the Bible is to be used sorely “in the service of the gospel.” But again, Paul didn’t get the memo. In 4:1, he refers to biblical truth as “things,” a plural noun clearly implying a multiplicity of propositional truth. Conspicuously absent is a definite article in regard to the gospel. But, in 11:2 Paul uses a definite article in regard to “teachings,” minus an object, making it a noun in plural form, and thereby implying in no uncertain terms that Scripture encompasses a multiplicity of propositional truth. If the gospel is the ne plus ultra of Scripture, how could Paul make such statements?
2) RHH teaches that the Bible is a gospel narrative that serves the same purpose for believers as well as unbelievers; it is to continually impart life to both. Micheal Horton goes to great lengths to make this point in “Christless Christianity.” So, the idea that the Bible contains truth that we receive for the purpose of salvation, and then move on to “something else,” is vehemently dismissed by advocates of RHH. But yet, Paul said in 14:22 that tongues is a sign to unbelievers, and prophesy (knowledge that edifies) “is for believers, not for unbelievers.” This shows clearly that the Bible does contain a dichotomy of truth for different uses in regard to justification and sanctification. Obviously.
3) RHH promotes an exclusive redemptive hermeneutic, but Paul displays an example of how the Bible uses various hermeneutics and states them accordingly. If no hermeneutic is stated, the plain sense of the text is assumed (“he opened His mouth and taught them”). For instance, Paul said to the Galatians in regard to part of what he wrote: “this is allegory.” We have another example of this throughout chapter 7, where Paul carefully explains the the context in which what he writes is to be interpreted.
4) RHH teaches that both Scripture and general revelation are not for the purpose of practical application, but rather to “show forth the gospel.” But Paul speaks of a practical application in 11:14,15 that, according to him, can be ascertained from nature; namely, that men should not have long hair. Many examples of this can, of course, be seen in the book of proverbs as well.
“Teachers” of our day have been laboring for some time to build a consistent theology that makes NCT, Christian hedonism, heart theology, and RHH, all fit together in application and experience. The results of this homework assignment make one thing crystal clear, at least one huge obstacle is Paul and his letter to the Corinthians.
In another recent post by Dr. Jay Adams, he seems to once again allude to the doctrine of the evil twins ( http://paulspassingthoughts.wordpress.com/2010/07/22/dr-jays-hopeful-post-and-the-evil-twins/ ). The most recent post I am referring to can be viewed here: http://www.nouthetic.org/blog/?m=201008 second from top.
Let me begin with this quote from his post: “Others are confused because of the recent revival of an old error: confounding Justification by faith with Sanctification by the work of the Spirit. The Spirit works His fruit in us by enabling us to understand the Word, by giving us the desire to obey it, and by enabling us to do so.”
Dr, J further explains: “In the revival of this teaching, passages that speak of justification by faith are related to sanctification.” Yes, there are many examples this. He then relates how this can effect counseling: “As a result, instead of encouraging Christians to obey God’s admonitions in the Bible, they are told that they can’t do so, and that—in one way or another (not everyone agrees how)—God must do it to them, for them, instead of them.”
Then he continues with a suggestion for those counselors who are fortunate enough by the grace of God to get a second crack at those who have been counseled that way, unlike many that I know who have had their faith shipwrecked by this teaching: ”When meeting up with those who have been taught this sort of thing in your counseling, and who are confused because it ‘didn’t work,’ you should ask them to do something like the following :
- List all of the commands in 1 Corinthians (for instance).
- Write down how many times Christ, the Holy Spirit or the Father is the One Who is thus commanded.
- The write down how many times you (or the Corinthians, if you will) are commanded to do them.
Well, when I was in counseling some time ago, I was given a lot of Jay’s homework assignments from his various books by a guy who I hope is not being deceived by the doctrine of the evil twins. But since I did all of the homework assignments, when Jay posted this one, I just couldn’t resist. So, in the following list, I document all commands from 1 Corinthians and answer questions 2 and 3. This should make it much easier for any counselor or counselee who actually wants to follow through with Jay’s suggestion, and share the results with him ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) However, remember, this would not even include instruction or commands that are implied through Paul’s informative teaching.
Also, the list creates huuuuuuge problems for the four pillars of Gospel Sanctification (not necessarily what Jay is speaking of here, but very similar, could just be a doctrinal evil twin); namely, New Covenant Theology, heart theology, Christian hedonism (wouldn’t JC Ryle love that one?), and redemptive historical hermeneutics. I will be posting in the near future on why these verses do extreme violence to the GS doctrine. But, if someone wants to help me out with some examples, I would appreciate it. Post them in the comment boxes.
So, here’s the list, hope it helps:
10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.
4 When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.
9 I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.
11 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.
12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you” [Deut. 17:7; 19:19; 21:21; 22:21,24; 24:7].
9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
5 Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.
25 Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are.
27 Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.
29 What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.
37 But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing.
……but he must belong to the Lord.
28 But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake— 29the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours.
2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings,[a] just as I passed them on to you.
14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.
28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.
……And when I come I will give further directions.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.
……And now I will show you the most excellent way.
1 If I speak in the tongues[a] of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
……love is kind.
……It does not envy,
……it does not boast,
……it is not proud.
……it is not self-seeking,
……it is not easily angered,
……it keeps no record of wrongs.
21 In the Law it is written: “Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me,” says the Lord [Isaiah 28:11,12].
26……All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.
……as the Law says.
……Let nothing move you.
……Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
……Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me.
……stand firm in the faith;
……be men of courage;
15 You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. I urge you, brothers, 16 to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work, and labors at it.
……Such men deserve recognition.
20……Greet one another with a holy kiss
22 If anyone does not love the Lord—a curse be on him. Come, O Lord!
Today, there are two diverse theories in regard to where, and how we fight sin in the sanctification (growing process of our redemption) process. To surmise that this issue is not important would be outwardly rejected by any and all Christians, but yet, Christianity is functioning as if the issue is of no import; no one is saying anything. Strange, for if you would ask what God’s primary will for us is, the answer would be: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1Thess. 4:3).
The two diverse views are as follows: One view says that the battleground is in the “heart,” and the other view says that the battleground is in the “flesh.” I will explain (for lack of a better term) the “heart model” first. But before I do, let me say that I intend to keep my discussion of this very “big picture.” I am also going to mention what I think is the real crux of the issue. Over the years in the field of psychology, the raging debate has been between depth Psychology and behaviorism. One says that a working theory of change must come from understanding the inner man (depth psychology), verses the latter that emphasizes theories of change developed through study of behavior. Simply put: what, verses why.
In all honesty, I believe the present-day debate between the heart model and flesh model is the result of that same debate being dragged into the Christian realm. You can actually drive a historic stake right were this began to happen. Around 1980, Dr. Larry Crabb published a book entitled “Inside Out,” in which he bemoaned his belief that psychologist had an “inside” theory of change but Christianity didn’t. Interestingly, he offered no theory per se, but the goal of the book was to confront the church about only focusing on outward behavior without any regard to change from the “inside out.” In the book, he pretty much stated that Freudian depth psychology was better than nothing, and called on the church to develop a “biblical” model of inside change.
I believe that the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF) answered that exact call. Specifically, David Powlison answered the call with the conception of his “Dynamics of Biblical Change”; the theological program at Westminster seminary (CCEF is the counseling wing thereof) that forms the basis of their counseling. In the early 1980′s, it was no accident that Dr. Crabb had a close working relationship with CCEF, but there was a problem: Crabb was too open (truthful) about what he, and many others, thought about the issue at hand; namely, that Christians needed to strongly consider Freudian theories in order to at least jump-start a working theory of inside change, stating that Freud had already done most of the “heavy lifting” in this area. Though he had vast agreement among his peers, they felt that he was spewing out things that most Christians were “not ready for.” Therefore, CCEF threw him under the bus, and continues to run him over with it till this day.
That’s the history, and it’s a short one. Heart theology, as we know it today, had its beginning in the late 70′s to early 80′s. It states that “real change” must start at the “heart level,” since that is the source of sin (Matthew 15:18, 19). Specifically, the mantra of heart theology is “real and lasting” change. This theology has been roughly 26 years in the making, with the finished product being articulated by two former students of David Powlison in the book, “How People Change.”
The theory further states that the key to change at the heart level is the understanding of misguided, or disoriented desires ( James 4:1). The heart is the battleground; desires are either rightly placed or misguided. This is called the “reorienting of the heart,” or reorientation of desires. According to the theory, desires are neither bad or good, they are neutral, but need to be properly placed. From this, you can rightly surmise that heart theologians believe that desire drives everything, and is the key to change. Whenever we sin, a wrongly placed desire is the source. The theory states that we can discover how the desire is misplaced, and reorient it towards Christ instead through, among other things, “deep repentance.” But here, if I attempt to further explain, this attempted short essay will quickly become a book. Really, I believe Paul Tripp does an excellent job of articulating heart theology in “How People Change,” though I believe the theory is a load of psycho-babble crap.
But before I move on to the flesh model, it must be noted that heart theology has a strong theological thrust in regard to the Law (all of God’s word), and its role in the sanctification process. Like the inside – outside debate in regard to distinguishing the heart model from the flesh model, there is also a major difference between the two in regard to the role of the Law in the sanctification process. The Law, and its role in the sanctification process is really the grand crux of the issue in my estimation. All roads to this argument lead back to the role of the Law in sanctification, period. If you really want to understand this issue, follow the money; in this case, the role of the Law in each. In heart theology, the following of the Law is a result of change at the heart level; the Law really plays no role at all, but is a mere “picture” or demonstration of change that has taken place at the heart level. I believe heart theology is a means to an end; specifically, the elimination of our participation in any kind of Law-keeping. An inside model, or theory of change, makes this theoretically possible (to eliminate the Law in the sanctification process). This can’t be emphasized enough in order to prevent confusion: the role of the Law, and location; heart? Or flesh?
This brings me to the flesh model. The flesh model teaches that the battle ground is in the flesh, or as some state it: “our mortal nature.” The flesh model argues that sin’s enslaving power is broken at salvation, but we still struggle with a remnant of sin that resides in our mortality. The battle is between our regenerate heart ( “the law of my mind,” Romans 7:23.“Heart” is most often an idiom for the “mind” in the Law [Scriptures]), and the sin in my “members” (again, Romans 7:23). Also, the flesh model would teach that desires are not neutral and have their own source. Good desires come from our regenerate heart (“the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”), but evil desires come from the “flesh” (“walk in the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the lust [desire] ‘of the flesh’”). Therefore, the flesh model would also teach that alignment with “ [living by] every word that come from the mouth of God” is “walking” in the Spirit, or according to the Spirit’s will, as expressed in the Scriptures; therefore, the Law is not merely a picture of heart change, but a tool utilized by us in the sanctification process to overcome the flesh. In fact, The apostle Paul seems to equate abstinence with the very definition of sanctification in 1Thess. 4:3-5 ; “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God;”
Seems pretty straight forward. Furthermore, in the very historical conception of heart theology, the admirable (for his transparency) Larry Crabb assumed that depth psychology has helped more people than behavioristic psychology. This is far from the truth and is well documented. Why not, at least, a biblical model of change based on the psychology that has clearly helped more people? In my opinion: because such a concept cannot eliminate the Law from the sanctification process because it focuses on changing behavior. Also, Paul Tripp concedes in “How People Change” that heart theology will have a failure rate; who then is the judge in regard to which model works better? Has someone done a survey?
Lastly, where is all of the discussion in regard to this issue? Do leaders really care about what the true biblical prescription is for “God’s will,” or is it just good conversation while eating lunch with the good ol’ boys at Applebees? Sometimes I wonder. Really, more than sometimes.
“Indeed, David Powlison believes that the church ‘forgets things’ and apparently, the most recent thing it forgot about is the true gospel. But never fear, CCEF’s ‘research and development’ team is hard at work setting things straight, until the next discovery that will be ‘tested’ in a local church near you.”
“It’s just no big secret that Powlison believes that everything having breath upon the earth can contribute to biblical understanding, even psychiatry.”
As a former rabid advocate of biblical counseling, I now have grave concerns about where it is going and what it produces. One particular red flag caused me to start thinking in 1998, and I have been cautiously observing ever since. What was the red flag? While the church was barley absorbing the earthquake caused by two men of diverse theology, Jay Adams and Dave Hunt, then came the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF) saying that both of them were wrong. Though Jay Adams was on the scene making waves before Dave Hunt concerning so-called “Christian psychology” and his contention against it, Dave Hunt was really the one who broke down the barriers, making a wide road for Jay Adams and his objective, biblical alternative to the integration of Freudian depth psychology with the pure milk of the word. But at the time, I was thinking that when you already have a reformation of sorts going on and someone comes along saying that they have one also; “hey! not them, us,” something just didn’t smell right. As I have observed the debate over the years and where it has all ended up, I hear Ozzy Osborne singing “Crazy Train” in the background.
In today’s American church culture, one sits in stupefied bewilderment as you look at the plain sense of Scripture in comparison to what the theological rock stars of our age are teaching and propagating. How did this happen? Simple, eisegesis verses exegesis; and the capital city of the Eisegesis kingdom is CCEF, and its reigning king is David Powlison. As the most recognized leader in the CCEF organization (the counseling wing of Westminster Seminary), he passionately proclaims the sufficiency and final authority of God’s word in counseling, but I have a few questions. My questions come from an interview posted on the “Nine Marks” blog; comments by Powlison that are indicative of his counseling philosophy and often repeated by him:
He is quoted as follows:
“The church forgets things. The church rediscovers things. But when it rediscovers something, it’s different because it’s always in a different sociocultural-historical moment, and different forces are at work.”
What church is he talking about? Christ said that He would build His church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. I assume that Powlison isn’t speaking for the whole church and all of its history. However, the bigger question is how Powlison thinks that truth is “rediscovered.” But first, the idea that the truth, once rediscovered is “different” because of the “sociocultural-historical moment,” should give one serious pause. What in the Ozzie Osborne does that mean?! The Apostle Peter addressed his primary concern in regard to what Christians might forget. As a matter of fact, because he knew his departure was near, it was the one teaching that he was emphasizing that he did not want them to forget. If they didn’t forget that teaching, it would enable them to have a rich entry into the kingdom of heaven (2Peter 1:1-16). A “rich” entry into the kingdom of heaven? Sounds pretty good to me! If one is fearful of what the church may have forgotten, they should look where the Bereans looked to hold Paul’s (the apostle) feet to the fire, the Scriptures. Also, in regard to some concern over the “socio-cultural-historical moment,” the Apostle Paul and the Hebrew writer both cited Old Testament Scripture without any additional references outside of Scripture to validate its New Testament application, saying the very purpose of the prior writings (2-4 thousand years beforehand in some cases) were for that present-day teaching (1Cor. 10:6, 10:11, Heb. 11:1-12:1).
But it is clear from many of his writings that Powlison believes the study of general revelation is critical to a correct understanding of Scripture and its application. By general revelation, I mean anything that (according to Powlison) “God might have shown other people.” Powlison’s concept of “recycling” is well documented and I am not going to expound on it here. Suffice to say that in the same interview mentioned above, he said the following:
“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 [ in essence, contemporary Depth Psychology verses Behavioristic Psychology]. Augustine did an unsurpassed job of tearing apart the various ways in which people’s desires become disordered” [like Freud's theory that people are primarily driven by desire. Powlisons speech is always saturated with psycho-therapeutic references].
“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.”
Besides not being impressed with Augustine for various reasons in addition to his anti-Semitism and allegorical approach to Scripture, the only Gregory the Great that I know of is the former Catholic Pope of A.D 540. Again, I would not be comfortable with gleaning “insight” from a Roman Catholic Pope for purposes of biblical counsel. It’s just no big secret that Powlison believes that everything having breath upon the earth can contribute to biblical understanding, even psychiatry. We see a hint of this in the same article from Nine Marks:
“The modern psychologies present a tremendously stimulating, informative, and threatening challenge. These psychologies are stimulating because they push us to ask questions that we may not have already considered. They’re informational because they are very observant. They’re threatening because they are a self-conscious alternative to the church and would love to take over the care of souls. They’re willing to do our job for us, letting us be a religious club that does good works while they deal with the deep stuff and the long stuff.”
It is clear that Powlison believes psychology and many other disciplines of non-spiritual discernment (notice how he concedes that they deal with the “deep stuff” while we only partake in “good works”) are indispensable in a full understanding of the Scriptures. If you doubt that, here is what he is quoted as saying, again, in the same article:
“CCEF is also unique even within the wider biblical counseling movement in two more ways. One is what I call “R&D”—a research and development purpose. We don’t believe that saying “biblical counseling” means that we have figured it all out. We are a work in progress. We have a core commitment to push, to develop, to build, to tackle a new problem.”
Powlison then explains further what the strength of this “research and development” is:
“CCEF has five full-time faculty members who share a wonderful synergy, in part because you have people who all have a dual expertise—a primary commitment to Bible and theology, coupled with some other expertise. Our director, Dr. Tim Lane, was a pastor for years. He brings a sensitivity to how counseling ministry links to the other aspects of church life. Dr. Mike Emlet is an M.D. who had a family practice for years. He’s the scientist who brings an awareness of mind-body issues like psychiatric diagnosis and medications. Dr. Ed Welch has a PhD in neuro-psychology and a burning interest in the nuances of actual counseling moments and how counseling actually happens. Winston Smith stays very current with the psycho therapeutic world. He has given his life to issues of marriage and family and group dynamics. My graduate work (besides Bible and theology) was in the history of psychiatry, history of science, and history of medicine. I am only just speaking of the faculty and not speaking of various members of the much wider counseling staff who have various interests. It’s a very rich environment with a common commitment to biblical counseling.”
Powlison continually admits that CCEF endeavors to test every theory it can find with Scripture, believing that there is an element of truth in all of it that will lend more understanding to the Scriptures. While this should scare the Ozzy Osborne out of every thinking Christian; instead, Christians are immediately guzzling down everything that comes out of CCEF without any hesitation whatsoever. When you think of the Apostle Paul himself being deprived of such (carte blanche acceptance from the likes of the Bereans and access to “R and D”), it baffles the mind. Furthermore, this approach (R&D) is what developed the gospel-driven life movement as we know it today. Otherwise known as gospel sanctification, it has its own concept of the gospel, its own hermeneutic, its own theory of change, and its own experience. It is the “Christo-centered” approach Powlison speaks of in the same interview. Let there be no doubt about it, much of the present-day gospel-driven (or “New Calvinism”) theology is the brain child of the CCEF eisegesis soup factory (through Powlison’s “Dynamics of Biblical Change”) and the brand is chock-full of everything that Popes and Sigmund Freud have to offer and deemed biblical by CCEF “experts.”
So then, In classic CCEF form, and their scientific approach to biblical truth, it should be no surprise that the book that articulates Powlison’s Dynamics of Biblical Change, “How People Change,” by Paul Tripp, was tested in a number of churches before it was published in 2006 via a pilot program of sorts (“How People Change”, [“How Christ Changes us by His Grace”] Leader’s guide, pg. F.3. Copyright 2003; published in 2005). Pray tell, why would you need to test a studious work from the word of God? It is either rightly divided or it isn’t, why would you need to test it?
Indeed, David Powlison believes that the church “forgets things,” and apparently, the most recent thing it forgot about is the true gospel. But never fear, CCEF’s “research and development” team is hard at work setting things straight, until the next discovery that will be “tested” in a local church near you.
So are some results in? Yes, I think so. You ever heard of Neuro-linguistic Programming? Many psychologists consider it to be the most powerful and effective program for changing people available today. This alone, when Powlison’s mindset is considered, makes it very improbable that CCEF has not considered the possibility of some biblical truth to be found in NLP. Information on NLP is easy to get, a Google search will quickly produce more material than you could read in a year.
Advocates of NLP have noted the similarities and value of CCEF’s teachings in regard to NLP, especially the writings of Paul David Tripp,
whose book “How People Change,” as I mentioned before, is based upon David Powlison’s “Dynamics of Biblical Change.” Tripp is sometimes quoted by Armand Kruger, the director of South Africa’s Institute of Neuro-Semantics, because of NLP concepts that can be found in “War of Words,” a book also written by Tripp. This shouldn’t be a surprise because NLP is the study of how words and communication have the power to bring about change. Likewise, the importance of asking ourselves certain questions to evaluate the inner-man is primarily a NLP concept, and strongly emphasized as well in Paul Tripp’s book, “How People Change” (Not to mention many more uncanny paralells).
David Field, a UK theologian and seminary professor who advocates the integration of NLP with Reformed theology, and especially counseling, quotes David Powlison extensively. He also confirmed his belief in the similarities of both teachings (CCEF and NLP) in a personal correspondence between the two of us. Why would this be a surprise? In the above cited interview, Powlison openly admits that Ed Welch has a PhD in neuro-psychology. NLP is a major component of neuro-psychology, this is practically common knowl-
edge. Furthermore, in churches closely associated with CCEF, the NLP concept of visualizing possible future events and re-framing them (or in this case, using the feelings invoked to reorient the desires of the heart), can be found in teaching series using Paul Tripp’s “War of Words.” An actual copy of a study sheet (that advocates visualization) associated with one of these studies can found here:
(Note how the homework assignment directly violates Paul’s imperative to think on what Is true [Phil.
In addition, during a face to face meeting with myself and elders of a church closely associated with CCEF, the elders would not deny that NLP was integrated into their teachings or the teachings of CCEF, of which their lessons were based on. They would not even say that they were unaware of any facts either way. Let me be clear, they would not even say: “We don’t know.” “We doubt it.” “no, that’s ridiculous,” or even, “your stupid,” though I specifically asked them to tell me the latter.
What is in the CCEF soup? Hard telling, but the results are beginning to show. As I look out on the present reformed landscape, I have to believe the infamous Jim Jones would weep with envy. Powlison routinely espouses concepts that directly contradict the plain sense of Scripture, and nobody blinks, but rather run to the vat with hoses equipped with motor-driven suction. Why is it unreasonable to suggest that CCEF be held to the same standard that Paul was? Furthermore, in the same cited interview, he boldly
proclaims that he wrote a whole book (“Speak Truth in Love”) based on removing the definite article “the” from Ephesians 4:15. No English translation does that, indicating that the text speaks of Scriptural truth specifically, not the “big” and “little” truth that Powlison speaks of to build a case for “all truth is God’s truth” and problem-centered counseling. This can also be seen clearly in the context of the text, where just prior to the conjunction, Paul is talking about false doctrine.
I close with a suggestion for a “research and development” wing within the church. The apostles had one. You can find it in Acts 6:1-7. It entailed appointing men to oversee the needs of the church so elders could prayerfully search the Scriptures while holding each other accountable. I believe that verse seven speaks to the results. To suggest that the apostles also perused all the wisdom of that day to aid in the process of the “ministry of the word” (verse 4), is ridiculous and silly. Peter himself, the rock of the church, advocated no more than the “PURE” milk of the word (nothing mixed in, in case you missed the point). Pastors who let CCEF indiscriminately pump information into the minds of their people are asleep at the switch, and worse.
Again, the Bereans would not even give the Apostle Paul a pass and were complimented by the Holy Spirit accordingly (Acts 17:11). Additionally, Paul advocated no less for even himself (1Cor. 11:1); therefore, who in the Ozzy Ozzborn is David Powlison?
The following is my reply to a discussion with a blogger and regards the title of this post. The subject of the other post (not mine) was “repenting of good works.” I do not care to mention his name at this time (update: it was Tim Keller), but thought my reply in the comment section of the blog site was complete enough to turn into a post:
….So let me be respectful, but blunt: I believe you, Paul Tripp, John Piper, and Michael Horton are on an endeavor to synthesize justification and sanctification into a plenary monergism. This is indicative of your statement above where you talk of justification and sanctification as if they are the same in regard to application of grace and our role accordingly. I will get to the “so what” conclusion of this later.
Paul Tripp clearly holds to this complete synthesis as illustrated on pages 64 and 65 of “How People Change,” where he describes our condition as believers in the same way as pre-salvation. Per the mode of operation that is becoming more and more prevalent in this endeavor to synthesize justification and sanctification, he uses Colossians 1:21 as Scripture that is a present reality for believers, when it clearly refers to our unregenerate state before salvation. Likewise, John Piper does the same thing in one of his ebooks entitled “Treating Delight as Duty is Controversial”:
“Yes, it becomes increasingly evident that the experience of joy in God is beyond what the sinful heart can do. It goes against our nature. We are enslaved to pleasure in other things (Romans 6:17)”.
Note that he cites Romans 6:17 in regard to why we struggle as Christians presently; Romans 6:17 is clearly a verse that concerns the unregenerate, and he even states that we are still “enslaved” as believers. I disagree.
Michael Horton’s contribution to this endeavor is stated by him in “Christless Christianity” on page 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.”
1. We only find continued life as believers when we partake in the same gospel that gives life to the unregenerate. This is what he is clearly saying.
2. If we move on to anything else, we loose both; in other words, synergistic sanctification is a false gospel because it separates practical aspects of justification and sanctification, which are both supposedly defined by the gospel that saves us. This is what he is clearly saying. Hence, the new reformation that is supposedly on a mission from God to save the evangelical church.
I often get flack from those who say Michael Horton is a sound advocate of biblical obedience to the Law by believers. But in fact, this is not true. Horton believes that the Law serves the same purpose for believers and unbelievers alike. In Modern Reformation, “Creeds And Deeds: How Doctrine leads to Doxological Living,” he says the following:
“Christians are no less obligated to obey God’s commands in the New Testament than they were in the Old Testament”
Sounds good, doesn’t it? But then he goes on to say the following:
“The imperatives drive us to despair of self-righteousness, the indicatives hold up Christ as our only savior….”
In other words, the purpose of the Law is to drive Christians to despair when they try to keep it, and thereby causing them to embrace the Savior who is really the one upholding the law for us (indicatives). If you read the whole paragraph in context, he is saying that the purpose of the Law in the life of believers is to create a perpetual state of guilt in order to keep us dependent on the cross and the righteousness of Christ only. Again, and for all practical purposes, he is saying that the Law has the exact same relationship, and purpose, to unbelievers and believers alike. Additionally, this viewpoint concerning the Law would be efficacious to the synthesizing of justification and sanctification as well.
So, it therefore stands to reason, that your primary focus in sanctification would be the same primary focus of unbelievers (justification) as well for purposes of salvation; repentance. Because your doctrine, by definition, is narrow and limited to repentance, this aspect must be greatly embellished and expanded; hence, all kinds of introspective theories concerning idols of the heart and the need to repent of repenting (or repenting of good works).
Well then, other than the fact that none of this stands the test of Scripture; so what? Here is the “so what?”: the complete synthesizing of justification and sanctification together leads to “without the Law” (most often in the Bible: “lawlessness“) in sanctification. We also refer to this as Antinomianism. Why would Christians even attempt to uphold the Law when we are no more able to do so than unbelievers (supposedly)? Again, Horton’s position on this is absolutely clear (I again point to page 62 of Christless Christianity). So then, are we to relish in our inability to uphold the Law of God? To the contrary, the Bible is saturated with verses that promise happiness and joy through our obedience.
Just this morning, a friend shared an article with me, and several others, from Christianity Today. It was a recent Jennifer Knapp (a contemporary Christian music artist) interview in which she defends her homosexual life style. She stated that she is not obligated to keep the Law because she, or anyone else, is unable to anyway. She (according to her) is only obligated to keep the greatest commandment of loving thy neighbor. Here is what she said:
“But I’ve always struggled as a Christian with various forms of external evidence that we are obligated to show that we are Christians. I’ve found no law that commands me in any way other than to love my neighbor as myself, and that love is the greatest commandment. At a certain point I find myself so handcuffed in my own faith by trying to get it right—to try and look like a Christian, to try to do the things that Christians should do, to be all of these things externally—to fake it until I get myself all handcuffed and tied up in knots as to what I was supposed to be doing there in the first place. If God expects me, in order to be a Christian, to be able to theologically justify every move that I make, I’m sorry. I’m going to be a miserable failure.”
She further poo-poos the Law with this statement:
“…what most people refer to as the ‘clobber verses’ to refer to this loving relationship as an abomination, while they’re eating shellfish and wearing clothes of five different fabrics,”
I find her statement eerily parallel to that of many “gospel-driven” proponents in regard to their perspective on the Law. Though I know you and others would never condone her behavior, I still find the parallels disquieting. If you care to respond, please don’t cite Reformers or Creeds, I am really looking for a solid biblical argument that I have this all wrong. And really, I hope I do.
“The cross-centered gospel and cross-likeness are not an exact replica of discipleship activity.”
“At any rate, advocates of this doctrine go undetected because of their mastery in presenting the vertical realities of truth minus horizontal responsibility, and the application to life thereof, i.e., obedience. Can we have an abundant, God honoring life in Christ without our own effort being involved? I doubt it. In fact, such a way will rather lead to death.“
I could start this post by complaining about the lack of Scooby-Doo’s inquisitive “er?” among God’s people in regard to some concept of “living by the gospel” *every day,* but we’re way past that in our day and age. We have rather gone to the other kind of dogs; the one frantically running for the bacon flavored “Kibbles and Bits” while chanting, “I love bacon, I love bacon, I love bacon.” If it sounds good, it’s bacon baby. Never mind some possible chemical reaction taking place inside the cranium area that would insight a small, still voice saying: “Wait a minute here. We are saved by the gospel, which is a fairly narrow concept; how does one also live by that same narrow concept every day? Not only that, believing the gospel gets us into the kingdom, once in, why do the saved still need it?” I don’t know if I will ever get remarried or not, but certainly, if I were ever on a date and the lady asked such a question, it would be a sure sign from God.
But actually, I can answer that question. Yes, there is a sense in which we should live by the gospel every day. When we forgive somebody we are forgiving them in the same way that we were forgiven:
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
There you go, that’s living by the gospel, and we should most certainly practice that every day if necessary. What about patience towards others in the same way God was patient towards you until you surrendered your life to him?:
2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
Again, this is living by the gospel. Yet another example, perhaps the most viable, is a daily dieing to self:
and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.
Furthermore, daily service to others is living by the gospel:
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Pity though, this is not what proponents of the “gospel-driven life,” or Christocentric theology, or Christ centered (you fill in the blank), or gospel centered (fill in the blank), or cross centered (you fill in the blank), and Gospel Sanctification have in mind. But hold that thought. Even if they did have this in mind (which would be a good start), here are three major reasons why Gospel Sanctification would still be a fraud:
1. It’s a part of being a disciple and not the whole thing. We are not only called to live a cross-like life, we are also called to “follow” him:
and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
For example, we are to follow Christ who also pleased God the Father in many other ways other than obedience to the cross. Before Christ went to the cross, here is what the Father said of Him:
And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Christ said of Himself:
By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.
The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”
All of these statements are before the cross. Walking as a disciple is more than cross-likeness, it is also observing “all that I have commanded” (Matthew 28:20).
2. The cross-centered gospel and cross-likeness is not an exact replica of discipleship activity. For example, we obeyed the gospel unto salvation by faith and repentance. As believers, we still repent daily, but it’s not the same kind of repentance that saved us, there is a difference. Specifically, it is the difference between repentance that justifies and repentance that takes place during sanctification. Jesus made it clear that there is a difference:
Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”
Christians have clean bodies (salvation); they now only need to wash their feet daily. Gospel Sanctification clearly teaches that we need the same gospel that saved us every day. This is impossible because to satisfy a connection with the gospel daily, we would need the same repentance, which is no longer needed by the believer. Not only that, the faith is not the same either. The gospel requires a faith alone. As J.C. Ryle rightly notes in his 20 letters on holiness, though the Scriptures say specifically that we are justified by faith alone, they never say we are sanctified by faith *alone.* In fact, James clearly states that the blessings of sanctification come “in” obedience (James 1:25) and not faith alone. Here is what J.C. Ryle said accordingly
“It is Scriptural and right to say faith alone justifies. But it is not equally Scriptural and right to say faith alone sanctifies.”
Simply stated, faith and repentance differ between justification (gospel) and sanctification. Therefore, we can live by the gospel implicitly as believers (note above examples), but not explicitly because the body has already been washed. The gospel can have serious implications to our lives as believers, but it is our goal to rather live out the commands of Christ as explicitly as we can. This is the second reason that Gospel Sanctification is a fraud.
3. To begin with, the gospel is not about the cross in totality. The gospel means “good news.” Though the cross is very, very, good news, it is not the only good news Jesus spoke of. In fact, the herald of the beginning of His ministry was the following:
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.
The good news was not just the cross, it was also the kingdom. As a matter of fact, the kingdom was a dominate theme in the presentation of the gospel throughout the book of acts, and in some cases, mentioned as separate from Christ in the same presentation:
But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.
Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.
“Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.
They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.
Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.
Even in the latter days just prior to the return of Christ, He said Himself,
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
The “good news” is not only concerning God’s Son (Romans 1:9). The gospel (good news) of His Son, is also the good news of the kingdom. It begs the question: have Reformed teachers frantically erected a cross-only “good news” in fear that a future kingdom with Jewish implications will be discovered in the Scriptures? Is the constant drumbeat of a cross-only gospel building a scriptural Dome on the Rock? But more to the point, wouldn’t a *living by the kingdom* be much more applicable than living by a narrow (but none the less profound) cross-only *good news*? In fact, a *living by the kingdom* seems to be the dominate theme of the Sermon on the Mount. If we are going to live “by” something, or “according” to something daily, why would it not be a kingdom mandate rather than a once and for all washing of the body? After all, Christ’s mandate for the church was not to make disciples who observe the gospel everyday, but rather those who observe “all that I have commanded” which is much more indicative of kingdom living than the continual revisiting of the death, burial, and resurrection, which is often spoken of as a foundation that we build on, and other times we are even exhorted not to continually lay the same foundation:
It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.
1 Corinthians 3:10
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds.
1 Corinthians 3:11
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 3:12
If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,
Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God,
So, it is a pity that proponents of Gospel Sanctification do not at least propagate an implicit living *by* the gospel because it at least approaches Scriptural semblance. But then what does Michael Horton, Paul Tripp, John Piper, Tim Keller, and others mean when they speak of “living *by* the gospel”? It is simply the following:
1. The gospel is confined to the cross and finished work of Christ, there is no other *good news.*
2. We are sanctified by the “same” gospel that saved us.
3. We cannot not think that we are saved by “the gospel,” and then we can “move on to something else” [and I will give you three wild guesses as to what the “something else” is].
4. The Bible is a gospel narrative (only) that gives us the ability to continually revisit the gospel daily. As Jerry Bridges often says: “We must preach the gospel to ourselves every day.”
Therefore, there will be a strong emphasis on teaching and preaching that focuses on the glory of God in the gospel only. Supposedly, meditating on various forms of the gospel and God’s glory from Scripture will change us “from the inside out.” There is no room here to discuss all of the various theories in regard to our supposed passive (obviously) participation in the sanctification process, but I can tell you that the teaching and preaching will be almost entirely vertical; and, all but completely void of practical application of biblical precepts. Think about it; what could you do to be saved? Well, if that same gospel sanctifies you, what can your participation be in the sanctification process? Not much. An excellent example of this is a book written by J.F. Strombeck in the forties entitled “Disciplined by Grace.” I believe that Jerry Bridges wrote a similar book entitled “The Discipline of Grace.” Strombeck’s book was a masterful work concerning the gospel of Christ and the glory of God, but the thesis of the book was that the realization of this is what disciplines us, not our own efforts. I would contend that it is both. At any rate, advocates of this doctrine go undetected because of their mastery in presenting the vertical realities of truth minus horizontal responsibility, and the application to life thereof, i.e., obedience. Can we have an abundant, God honoring life in Christ without our own effort being involved? I doubt it. In fact, such a way will rather lead to death. I will often hear Christians rave about a certain teacher or preacher, and inform me that I “must run now and get this book.” On several occasions, I have told them to point out practical application of biblical precepts as taught in the book, and if they can, then I will buy it. Per the usual, their initial response is an emphatic “no problem.” But later, they come back surprised that the book is void concerning hands-on instruction.
So what? Well, the following from Luke 6:46-49 is the “so what?”:
46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?
47 I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice.
48 He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.
49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”
First, we see that Christ expects to be Lord (master) in any legitimate relationship with Him. His question is obviously rhetorical. Because GS teachers despise any notion that we can colabor with God in sanctification, you can bet that they will not tolerate any inkling of what they perceive as self effort in justification. Therefore, repentance will often be conspicuously missing from their gospel presentations. As a result, you could well argue that they teach a false gospel based on this point alone:
For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, [you must call on Him as “Lord”].
” He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.
In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.
I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus [note they “must” have faith and repentance both].
First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.
Secondly, under “so what?“; Christ was also clear as to the ill effect on believers in regard to neglecting the art of applying God’s word to life in obedience:
“But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete” (Luke 6:49).
Therefore, those who sit under GS teachers receive a steady diet of the sweet stuff. It’s like the name of my favorite desert at Chilies: “Death by Chocolate.” Round-up a bunch of toddlers and feed them nothing but chocolate for two weeks and see what you get. It’s what the Neo-Reformed movement is looking like more and more as they are fed the unbalanced diet of the vertical only. Michael Horton’s favorite reference regarding biblical imperatives is, “it‘s just more bad news.” Really? To the contrary, an unbalanced diet of monergism in the sanctification process is really death by good news; what Jesus called a “complete destruction.”
As a blogger on WordPress, I have seen a significant spike in interest regarding church discipline. I think this is because of its recent resurgence in Reformed circles. My missionary son-in-law, David Ingram, informed me that a single article regarding church discipline on his ministry website is downloaded at least 60 times per month. Unfortunately, many of the search terms I see on WordPress stats are “unbiblical church discipline.” Furthermore, in a church culture vastly uninformed regarding church discipline to begin with, the subject is coming out of a Neo-Reformed theology that is morphing at break-neck speed. I can only assume that confusion is ruling the day on this subject. The following four essays are from my book and a recent post.
In part one, I attempt to give an overview of church discipline and some new approaches. In parts 2, 3 and 4, I explain how some of these new approaches effect counseling and other areas of church life. I sincerely hope it clarifies this issue for many. Keep in mind, on the published pdf files, you can zoom in for easier reading.
The links to each part are the following:
“Is Piper taking an eight-month sabbatical to put Paul Tripp’s theory of change to the test? If he is, God help us.”
“Per the usual, Scripture takes a backseat in regard to judging such situations. In fact, Scripture isn’t even in the car.”
Well, I have read through several commentaries on John Piper’s “heroic” decision to take an eight-month “sabbatical” from his, um; stand by while I find a replacement word for “duties,”…….ok, activates. We don’t want to use the ‘D’ word, especially when we are talking about an eight-month leave of absence (this is sarcasm in regard to Piper’s constant dissing of “duty”; this dissing serves him well in regard to his sabbatical). No surprise, all of the reviews were stellar, as the Reformed rock stars of our age can do no wrong. But, I still stand perplexed in this development, especially in regard to the plain sense of Scripture, and really, just good-old-fashioned common sense as well.
First, from a common sense point of view, it’s inconsistent with all of the clamor about not putting Reformed leaders on pedestals. In his formal letter regarding this latest episode, dated March 28, 2010, he, himself, eludes to this by saying the following: “Not only that, others could use similar time away. Most working men and women do not have the freedom to step back like this.” Ya, so why are you? The very thought by him that he has a right to do this, also confirms that he thinks of himself as distinct from most other Christians, and Christian leaders. Eight months? Why not just resign and be done with it? Simply put, it’s arrogance. But, per the usual, all these guys have to do is mention that they acknowledge a possible objection, and the objection goes away like the wind drives away chaff in the minds of their koolaid-drinking followers; “Oh, he knows this is reality, all must be well.” Actually, he makes the statement in conjunction with the fact that he requested not to be paid while on his sabbatical. Apparently, the elders of Bethlehem Baptist Church rejected the request. Surprise, surprise. What a huge disconnect, some leader taking an eight-month sabbatical to reconnect with his family while getting paid. And he’s just like us?; struggling in the same spiritual trenches? Doesn’t seem to compute.
Not only that, didn’t he write a book entitled “Brothers, We Are Not Professionals”? What is more indicative of professionalism than some guy getting paid to take a leave for eight months from an incorporated church? Not only that, as well, didn’t he thank a well known Evangelical leader for inviting him to speak, by publicly rebuking his leadership (the leaders of the church he was invited to), from the very pulpit he was invited to, for honoring him (Piper) with embellished accommodations? I guess they treated him like a professional, or something. My guess is as good as any, as to why Piper and other Reformed leaders get a pass on their extreme hypocrisy. I guess, like GM, Piper and other Reformed leaders are just “too big to fail.”
But I will now address another issue that just makes me want to jump in the river. Per the usual, Scripture takes a backseat in regard to judging such situations. In fact, Scripture isn’t even in the car. Anyone who has a big picture grasp on the New Testament should know that such an endeavor by an elder is foreign to Scripture. Can you imagine the Apostle Paul doing something like this? Better yet, could you imagine the same apostle, with his scared-up body, being at that elder’s meeting? “You want to do what?” “Eight months?” “And you will be doing what?; spending time with your wife?” And would the apostle also insist that he be paid as well? I seriously doubt it.
But I may be digressing a bit, Piper’s reasons were stated as follows: “I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me.” First of all, these types of statements that continually come out of Piper’s mouth raise all kinds of questions: 1. Several “species” of pride? How many are we talking about? What specific “species” are they, and where do we find them in Scripture? 2. What do you mean when you say you “see” them in your soul? How, exactly, do you “see” them? Please specify. I’m sorry, but the guy was in an elder’s meeting; therefore, the solution to any of his problems were right there:
“Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 14Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:13-16).
I don’t know how many elders serve with him, but his actions make it clear that, supposedly, the prayer, confession to, and counsel of these men are not enough, he needs a lengthy sabbatical. In fact, he calls it a eight-month “….reality check from the Holy Spirit.” He’s such a super, high-powered, man of God, that he needs a special fix. Again, it’s arrogance. I could see a couple of weeks in addition to his vacation time. I could certainly see a cut-back in ministry duties, uh! I mean, activities, sorry; but an eight-month leave of absence? C’mon, what’s really going on here?
Well, we get a clue of sorts. Here is what he is quoted as saying in The Christian Post : “One of the goals of fasting,” he noted, “is to determine levels of addiction or, as Paul Tripp of [of?] Tim Keller would say, levels of idolatry.”
Per the usual, Piper can make statements like this and nobody blinks. Where does the Bible talk about determining levels of idolatry through fasting? I wish the whole reformed movement would fast and pray to determine its level of addiction to the teachers they worship. An idol is anything you cannot say no to, and trust me, not many followers of John Piper say no to him, including his elders. They can’t even say no to him when he doesn’t want to get paid for not working, and by his request! Furthermore, he mentions Paul Tripp, who believes that you can empty your heart of idols by determining what they are by identifying their relationship to sinful desires. These sinful desires are discovered by asking yourself “X-ray questions,” which are like interpretive questions of sorts. I believe Tripp borrowed this concept from Nero-linguistic Programming, a method of change used by psychologist. His treatise on this method of change can be observed in “How People Change,” published in 2006. Is Piper taking an eight-month sabbatical to put Paul Tripp’s theory of change to the test? If he is, God help us.
I suggested to my daughter, Heather, a missionary in PR, that this sabbatical could result in Piper repenting of his Christian mysticism. She suggested instead, that as a teacher that survives from novelty to novelty, that he will more than likely come back with all kinds of fresh, new ideas. Frankly, I find this possibility terrifying.
“But the crux of Tharp’s contention in regard to the gospel staggers the imagination for the following reason: the contradictions between ‘Broken-Down House’ and ‘How People Change’ are so extreme that there are no words that could begin to describe them.”
“What is this guy’s deal? Is he teaching two different dimensional truths (eschatological and something else) to be all things to all people for the purpose of selling books? Or is he just confused?”
Imagine my shock when I opened the newest newsletter from PsychoHeresy Awareness Ministries; and lo, an expose on Paul David Tripp’s latest book: “Broken-Down House.” If somebody writes an evaluation of your book in a newsletter called “PsychoHeresy Awareness Ministries,” you usually don’t expect a good review, and the review of his book by Carol Tharp is certainly no exception. The reason for my shock is due to the fact that Tripp, until now, has enjoyed a significant degree of freedom from criticism by mainline evangelicals.
In her introduction of part one, in this review, as she is giving a lay of the land in regard to Tripp’s book, she notes some of Tripp’s weird word-craft in quotations as a sort of Huh? commentary. Welcome to my world. She notes how Tripp describes the book as, “drawing a ‘word picture’ of our life.’” Huh? Still in disbelief that the theological Alice in Wonderland work of “How People Change,” also written by Tripp, did not end up on anyone’s radar screen, and regardless of bazaar concepts like asking ourselves “x-ray questions” in order to analyze desires of the heart; I was indeed thankful for this book and the fact that I don’t have to read it. But what an education it was in regard to another major dimension of Paul Tripp’s theology, who is sort of a behind the scenes minion of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF).
The primary doctrine of this book that Tharp concentrates on is the belief that creation is in progressive renewal and that we as believers have a part in that renewal. Put another way: an eschatological, progressive renewal of creation. Tharp notes well that this is blatant error:
**Concerning the future, Tripp claims that the world is “in the process of being restored” (18), but offers no Scriptural support for this optimistic eschatology. He ignores Scripture’s clear message that “the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition” (II Peter 3:5-7). Tripp assures his readers that “evil is in the process of being defeated” (105) and that “the enemies of God and good are being progressively defeated” (106). He ignores Scriptures such as 1 John 5:19 stating clearly that “the whole world lieth in wickedness,- in the power of the evil one. After 222 pages of how to be Living Productively in a World Gone Bad, he claims that -you can, beyond any question. be one of God’s tools of rescue and restoration … with the sure expectation” that God will “put a tender hand on— your tired shoulder and say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You can do these things” (222, bold added).**
Tharp also notes:
**In contrast to all of this, Scripture presents the world as guilty and groaning under the curse and waiting for the redemption of our bodies. The biblical promise lies in “him who hath subjected” it, not in us. Believers have hope but not in their redeeming creation.**
**When Scripture speaks of the restoration of the fallen creation, it speaks of a future restoration which is solely the work of God. Nowhere does Scripture support a notion of “restoration” as being “in process” and something accomplished by man…..There is nothing in Scripture to indicate that we are helping God restore the creation.**
An eschatology that teaches a progressive renewal of creation stands as a blatant and stark contradiction to biblical truth, especially when a supposed role by us is included. Furthermore, Tharp also notes how this eschatology echoes the same beliefs as the emergent church:
**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.”6 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.”‘**
But the crux of Tharp’s contention in regard to the gospel staggers the imagination for the following reason: the contradictions between ‘Broken-Down House’ and ‘How People Change’ are so extreme that there are no words that could begin to describe them. Anyone who has studied Tripp’s teachings and actually paid attention in a thoughtful way, would initially find Tharp’s assertions extremely hard to believe. However, she makes her case that Tripp propagates; get this, “environmental determinism.”:
**Foundational to Tripp’s message [in Broke-Down House] is the psychological doctrine of environmental determinism. Most counselors, secular or Christian, counsel as if people’s problems are caused by their environment. For Tripp, this environment is the “broken- down house” in “a world gone bad.”**
Tharp continues to make her case:
**As he asserts, “It conditions what you face … shapes what you experience … structures the struggles … creates the stresses … determines the issues … molds the work of the church … shapes the struggles of your heart … and even determines the things you deal with in your body” (19). According to Tripp, the reader has been chosen “to embrace the promise and possibility of a restoration lifestyle” (20). He is called “away from self-focused survival to the hard work of restoration” (21). He says that the broken-down house is “the only environment you have” (19), but by “the hard work of restoration,” you can achieve freedom from these environmentally determined problems and lead a “life that can truly be called successful” (209). In other words people have become broken down through external circumstances, but have the ability not only to fix themselves but to fix the world.**
This is in stark contradiction to HPC, which teaches that environment has absolutely nothing to do with heart issues, other than to reveal what the sinful desires of our heart are by asking “x-ray” questions like “what did you want?“ In BDH, he says creation [or environment] “shapes the struggles of your heart.” At the very least, he is teaching (in BDH) that the renewal of creation can facilitate inward change. Is Paul Tripp really that confused? Or, does he just want to sell books? Furthermore, according to Tharp, he says the following in regard to righteous anger:
**Tripp informs his readers, “In a fallen world, people of character and conscience will always be angry” (129) and asks, “What will be the legacy of this week’s anger for you?” (134). He declares, “God is not satisfied with the state of this house, and he calls us to share in his holy dissatisfaction” (20). He says that “the ongoing dissatisfaction of our Redeemer is a theme of this whole book” (196). In seeming denial of Christ’s last words on the cross, “It is finished,” Tripp says that “God cannot and will not be satisfied with His work of redemption as long as the physical world suffers the effects of sin” (197). No explanation is offered as to how God, who creates and destroys by the Word of His mouth, who knows the end from the beginning, and whose ways are beyond our understanding could ever be “a Dissatisfied Redeemer” (196).**
A continuing theme of Tripp’s teachings has always been that anger is almost always the result of sinful desires, and usually treats the whole idea of righteous indignation with a knowing smirk. Also, in HPC, he spills gallons of ink dissing practical application, methods, and “living by list’s.” But yet, according to Tharp, he says the following in BDH:
**Having established this doctrinal base, Tripp, like most psychotherapists, proceeds to offer a number of methods by which a troubled person can supposedly restore his own broken-down house. Describing the Bible as “a copy of [God's] repair manual” (85), Tripp offers “five ways to pursue the character qualities to which God calls us” (30), forty-four ways to be “an instrument of cross-shaped love” (172-174), five ways to “Celebrate Grace” (188), three approaches to “daily living” (201), and five “principles that help create the sort of legacy each one of God’s children should want to leave for those who follow” (209-222)…..Tripp’s talk of becoming “more authentically human”(91) “in a step-by-step way” (188), **
I’m I here right now? The antithesis of HPC is using the Bible as a “repair manual.” In HPC, he presents the Bible as a gospel narrative and nothing else. What is this guy’s deal? Is he teaching two different dimensional truths (eschatological and something else) to be all things to all people for the purpose of selling books? Or is he just confused?
Never the less, Tharp’s focus is on BDH, and concludes the following:
**As such, Tripp proffers a false and misleading gospel, one that is all too familiar among psychotherapists, both secular and Christian. His gospel is false because it presents an unbiblical view of the problem of man and offers an unbiblical solution.**
“Nobody ever said we change ourselves through obedience, ……..We are to learn, apply, pray, obey inwardly (thinking), obey outwardly, seek wise counsel, love, encourage, instruct, rebuke, disciple, confess, and leave the changing and knowing of the heart to God.”
It happened in the early 90′s. I was in the process of absorbing and applying truth from what I think was in fact a contemporary reformation. There is no doubt, Christianity had relinquished its faith and confidence in God’s word; specifically, in regard to solving the weightier issues of life and godliness, deferring to the so-called “experts” of our day. Jay Adams, a reformed Presbyterian, introduced a structured biblical counseling system that radically changed lives through the power and instruction of God’s word. His thesis, after it was all said and done, and in a manner of speaking, begged this question by children: “Daddy, what did Christians do about serious problems before Sigmund Freud came along?” Surprisingly, and before evangelicals barely had a chance to catch their breath, something else came along, Heart Theology. Picking up again where my opening sentence left off, the following is how I was first introduced to Heart Theology. I was an elder in a church that was a training center for what was dubbed “biblical counseling.” The elder that was primarily leading this program was also in the process of obtaining his doctorate degree from another counseling center attached to a reformed seminary. This is where he was introduced to this new counseling theology. It was added as a level 2 program, or addendum to what was already considered radical among evangelicals; namely, the concept that God’s word is sufficient for all matters of life and godliness. I was skeptical in regard to this new twist. Let me explain the basic differences in the two approaches that fueled my skepticism.
First, in regard to the original biblical counseling movement, there are two basic characteristics of biblical counseling as originally introduced by Adams. First, it changed preaching, which was predominately, and still is to a large degree, “about” the Bible. For instance, there may have been many sermons “about” the importance of communication from the Bible. For example, instances where men misunderstood God and gee whiz, bad things happened after that, so don’t do what they did. Biblical counseling went beyond that to a deeper and technical understanding that was applied to real life situations. An example would be biblical precepts of communication that could readily be brought to mind in everyday life and applied accordingly. It was and is, technical wisdom from the word of God and specific instruction on how to apply it to real life. Once pastors learned to do this in the privacy of their office, it transferred to the pulpit where it became preventative medicine for God’s people. Yet another example. Say a young couple in your church decides to marry. What usually happens? We rejoice and marry them! Right? The Jay Adams approach would ask three questions: are these two young people experts on marriage? Probably not. Does God’s word have any wisdom that will prepare them for successful marriage that honors God? Of course. So should we just let them figure it out on their own? Probably not. This introduced Premarital Counseling in the church, with many pastors making it a prerequisite to that church’s participation in the wedding.
The other characteristic was an equal emphasis on justification and sanctification. Let’s be honest, the primary focus of evangelicals is getting people saved. Once there saved, we teach them the importance of church attendance, tithing, and learning about the Bible. Christ never told us to primarily get people saved; his mandate for the church is to “make disciples.” This is done by counseling with God’s word. Premarital Counseling, like many other aspects of biblical application, is “making disciples.” Preaching from the pulpit should also keep parishioners out of the counseling office as well as divorce court. The contention by Adams that pastors are to primarily counsel and not preach was indeed a shocker to many. Preaching should always contain counsel in regard to the technical application of God’s word to real life.
But in addition to these characteristics, one of the primary elements of this biblical counseling was its emphasis on objectivity. Jay Adams was, and I assume still is, a stickler for objective instruction rather than what was referred to as “fuzzy land.” However, I must concede this one weakness in the contemporary (about 37 years old) biblical counseling movement; there was a lack of emphasis on the monergistic resources that give us the strength to apply God’s wisdom to everyday life. But this is understandable, for Evangelicals were preaching about the forest in habitual fashion. The gargantuan task of showing the importance of the individual trees and their proper application was bound to distract. So, in regard to the biblical counseling movement, I have explained two characteristics, one element, and one fault.
Strange, In the midst of this revolution that was pouring out hope, seemingly without measure, there was another movement afoot that had a compliant against the former and the new; namely, biblical counseling wasn’t vertical enough, Adams had simply refined the emphasis on the outward and made Baptist Pharisees into super Pharisees. Yes, the new reformation (Adams) was bringing about lots of change, but it wasn’t “lasting change.” Their answer?; they contended that Christians must abandon all emphasis on outward behavior and partake in emphasizing change at the “heart level.” That would be the two elements of the Heart Theology movement: change at the heart level, and real, lasting change (theoretically).
So, what does that look like (not “how,” which might imply some kind of verb to follow)? Well, the key is deciphering the “desires of the heart.” Desires reveal the idols in our heart, or anything that we love more than God (supposedly, according to advocates). So, what does that look like? Well, we analyze desires of the heart three ways. First, by how we respond to circumstances. Second, by asking God to reveal the Idols through prayer. Thirdly, by imagining future scenarios and taking note of how it makes us feel. The second means is direct, God simply reveals it to us directly through prayer. The first and third means require the use of interpretive questions. So for instance, you are watching a football game and your wife demands that you take the trash out “right now!” And this in fact makes you angry. The most common interpretive question is “what did you want?” The answer is the following: you wanted to be left alone to enjoy the game and you wanted to be shown more respect by your wife. There you have it; football and being respected are idols in your heart. If you now repent of these idols, they are emptied from your heart and God then fills that void in your heart with himself. To the extent that your heart has idols, God is not present. Depending on the presence and filling of God verses idols, obedience is a “mere natural flow” that doesn’t require effort (works) on our part.
This now brings me to the major characteristic of Heart Theology, it’s nebulous and subjective. It also brings me to the fault of Heart Theology which is fatal. Unlike the understandable (lack of emphasis on God’s promised resources) and easily adjusted error of biblical counseling, The fatal error of Heart theology is its conflict with 1 Kings 8:39;
“then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways (for you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind),
This verse emphatically states that only God can know the heart. The Holy Spirit makes it a point to use the subject (God ["you"] ) twice with no words in between (modifiers ect.). This is clearly for the purpose of strong emphasis. We cannot evaluate the heart in regard to idols. Besides, scripture often identifies sinful desires as being located in the “flesh” to begin with.
Though we depend on God’s strength, He would have us to focus on the objective and plain sense of Scripture. Following God’s wisdom and instruction is our role. Knowing and changing the heart is God’s business. Nobody ever said we change ourselves through obedience, Adams certainly never said that. We are to learn, apply, pray, obey inwardly (thinking), obey outwardly, seek wise counsel, love, encourage, instruct, rebuke, disciple, confess, and leave the changing and knowing of the heart to God. Adams said it best in a counseling conference: “The commands in the bible are not to the Holy Spirit, they are to us” and, “Quietism will ruin peoples lives.” There is no new reformation that narrows God’s precepts and wisdom for living to “deep repentance” that requires us to know our hearts. We cannot know our hearts, only God can. If there has been any reformation in the past 30 years, it has been the ability to apply the word of God to every issue of life and godliness.