I have never been much for getting into the more bizarre aspects of New Calvinism, but we know that errant theology leads to life getting stranger and stranger. This post is about well-known Christians and their determination to associate with bizarre sects of New Calvinism. Without a doubt, the best example is my old stomping grounds, Clearcreek Chapel in Springboro, Ohio.
Clearcreek is still a training center for the National Association of Nouthetic Counselers and is on NANC’s national referral list. The Chapel is frequented by guest speakers such as Robert Jones, Paul David Tripp, Stuart Scott, and Lou Priolo. Apparently, Martha Peace has an ongoing teaching arrangement with Clearcreek as well. PPT has sent most of these folks letters asking them to not grant Clearcreek credibility in this way, but to no avail. Scott’s basic response was, “Not my problem.”
So, what doesn’t matter to these folks? Primarily, it doesn’t matter that one of Clearcreek Chapel’s staff elders (over adult education) is Chad Bresson, a former Christian radio personality. Bresson is one of the charter members of the Earth Stove Society which is a fringe group that promotes New Covenant Theology. Bresson authors the blog, Vossed World which is dedicated to the Bible Theology of Geerhardus Vos.
Vos has a cult following from this group. Literally. NCT fringe groups lead yearly pilgrimages to Vos’ gravesite in Pennsylvania to pay homage to Vos. Bresson led such a pilgrimage last year that was nothing short of a worship service. Bresson himself stood before Vos’ headstone and wept while reading from books written by Vos. Shockingly, Bresson posted the affair on his Facebook page and the information was forwarded to PPT.
Just last week, I had the following encounter with an advocate of NCT and acquaintance of Bresson’s in the PPT comment section of a post:
My dear anti-Pneumian friend, we are heading there in a few weeks for our winter Pilgrimage . . . we will be sure to light a prayer candle or two for you at his shrine as we offer up prayers on our special new covenant Rosary to our beloved patron Saint Geerhardus. May he grant to you out of his treasury of grace to be spared some time in purgatory. Until then, walk in the power of the Spirit and be filled with the joy and wonder of the Gospel!
I would be inclined to think you are kidding, but I know Bresson all too well, so, I think you are serious about this. If Vos shows up, take good notes and I will let you write a guest piece here.
Also troubling is Bresson’s outright denial of a literal, instructive approach to Scripture. Bresson believes the Holy Spirit only illumines the word when it is approached as a gospel narrative for purposes of Gospel Contemplationism. Any use of the Bible for instructive purposes is to use the Bible in the same way that the Pharisees used the Torah (Vossed World blog: “The Word of God is a Person,” 7/17/2008 archives). As the foremost respected theologian at Clearcreek Chapel, the idea that every single verse in the Bible must be read as concerning Christ and the gospel can be seen in the following post by another Chapel teacher: Clearcreek Chapel Biblical Theological Study Center blog: “Interpreting the Unfolding Drama the Way Jesus Did,” student archives 2/19/2011, by Max Strange. Online source: http://clearcreekbtsc.blogspot.com).
The Clearcreek elders are so bent on not implementing instruction in counseling that on at least one occasion, according to a former counselee I talked to, they will draw pictures of the person’s life on a piece of paper and illustrate were the counselee is located in the picture. I witnessed a testimony firsthand in which a Clearcreek elder said a marriage was miraculously transformed before his eyes by merely showing forth the gospel from the Scriptures in the first counseling session. When I confronted the elders about it, the response was, “Oh, that’s just Dan.”
Even by NANC standards, the fact that NANC associates with them and refers people there who have deep problems is unconscionable.
Another example is New Calvinist Mark Driscoll who has been a keynote speaker at such events like CCEF’s 2009 national conference at the behest of David Powlison. The following video in which he claims to see visions is self-explanatory:
Truly, New Calvinists like John Piper and CJ Mahaney must get together and giggle about what they can actually get away with. The following video documents their strange “The Scream of the Damned” concoction. This actually took place at the 2009 resolved conference sponsored by John MacArthur’s church. The fact that Grace Community Church would host such nonsense speaks for itself. Following are quotes concerning the message and then the 2009 resolved promo trailer:
CJ spoke of our Savior’s cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” And though I have contemplated that amazing cry often, never did it hit me as hard as in CJ’s message, when he referred to it as “the scream of the Damned.”
Then there was break and music and announcements, and John Piper stood up to bring his message. Several of us had prayed in a back room that God would anoint John, and pick right up where He left off in the previous message, and wow, did He. John referred repeatedly to the “scream of the Damned,” and then moved into Romans 8.
A flood of tears came as God preached the message to me yet again. That Deity would be Damned. That the God who is called upon righteously by the saints and angels in heaven to damn people, and called upon habitually by unbelievers flippantly and unrighteously to damn people, would in fact damn his Son, would (from the Son’s willingness to drink the cup) damn himself…for us. That it could be said of the Beloved One, “God damned Him,” and that He screamed the scream of the Damned….it was too much for me. It is too much for me this moment. And in the ages to come it will continue to be too much for me.
~ Randy Acorn
Everything exists to magnify the worth of the scream of the damned. That’s the point of the universe. What we will do forever in heaven is magnify the worth of the scream of the damned. Calvary will not be forgotten. It is the most-horrible, most sinful, most agonizing event that ever was – it will be the center of heaven forever. Hell exists, cross exists, sin exists, heaven exists, you exist, universe exists, in order to magnify the worth of the scream of the damned. What is the apex of the revelation of the grace of God? And the answer is the scream of the damned on the cross.
~ John Piper from his sermon on “The Screamed of the Damned.”
I’m past it now. Most of my spiritual heroes have fallen. I am now ready for the rest of them to fall if they do— the few that are left, which include the dead. It’s a good test for one’s faith—do we follow men or Christ?
They cross my path now and then—those who are going through what I have gone through. Some are in the denial stage—others in the disillusionment stage that will draw them closer to Christ and give them more resolve for the truth. They will be ok; after all, every Christian is born again with a little bit of Noah in them.
Have you ever thought about what it must have been like for Noah? He was one of the few Christians left on the face of the Earth, and beyond him, only family members. Noah was a follower of God and didn’t follow the crowd, and in this case, the “crowd” was the whole world. And remember, we may assume that religion and false teachings were very much a part of that landscape as well. Peter also states that Noah was a “herald of righteousness.”
In our day when evangelism is at an all-time low and compromise at an all-time high, more Noahs are needed, especially since Christ said, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” Of course, in our day, many cannot draw encouragement or solace from the life of Noah because after all—whether or not those events are true is neither here nor there—what those narratives say about the gospel is the point. It’s not about Noah, it’s about Jesus.
Neo-evangelicalism’s First Major Trophy: Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse
I have been writing lately about Neo-evangelicalism. Its connection with Neo-orthodoxy and New Calvinism will be discussed in volume two of The Truth About New Calvinism. Basically. NE rejected the idea of separation to maintain doctrinal purity. At some point, Dr. Barnhouse succumbed to how uncomfortable things become when you stand for the truth. His capitulation triggered a tsunami of disillusionment and denial. As recorded by Christian Author MJ Stanford:
CRUSHING COMPROMISE: In November of 1954 Dr. Barnhouse completely capitulated to his denomination, and especially to his Philadelphia Presbytery. Christians throughout the world were astounded by this seemingly sudden surrender. The Philadelphia Bulletin for November 12, 1954, reported:
“A 22-year-old breach between the Presbytery of Philadelphia and Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse has been healed by the latter’s recent appearance before the Presbytery expressing the desire for closer fellowship with the alienated group. Presbytery immediately responded in an open-armed gesture of welcome…. Dr. Barnhouse said, “I have come to realize that some of my personal relationships have suffered because of these past differences, and I now recognize that this has been a mistake. For my part I want to work in much closer fellowship with you in the Presbytery.”
Can you imagine those same words coming from the mouth of Noah?:
I have come to realize that some of my personal relationships have suffered because of these past differences, and I now recognize that this has been a mistake. For my part I want to work in much closer fellowship with you in the Presbytery.
Thereafter, Barnhouse’s compromise is credited with greasing the wheels of the Progressive Adventist movement and Neo-Pentecostalism/Oneness Theology:
SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISM ACCEPTED: It was in 1956 that Dr. Barnhouse’s ecumenical love-stance included cultic compromise. At that time he and Dr. Walter Martin entered into “sweet fellowship” with masters of deceit–the leaders of Seventh-Day Adventism! As a result there appeared an astounding series of articles in Eternity, beginning in September, 1956.
While not agreeing with some of their “screwy doctrines,” of as he put it, he insisted that “they are as orthodox on the great fundamentals of the Person and work of Christ as anybody in the world could be.” (I for one, then, am out of this world!) In these fateful and disquieting disquisitions Dr. Barnhouse went all out in an effort to convince Christians that Seventh-Day Adventists were safe and sound evangelicals and should be accepted into full fellowship.
This irresponsible sponsorship brought forth a storm of protest all over the world, with thousands writing in repudiation of the sheep-stealing and doctrinally deviant cult. Dr. Barnhouse was untouched. As a friend of his used to say of him, “He was dogmatic about any subject even when he was totally wrong.”
SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISM ACCEPTS : The wily Adventists were quick to take advantage of Dr. Barnhouse and his pandoric patronage. As early as October 2, 1956, the Adventist monthly, Signs of the Times, came forth with an editorial entitled, “Adventists Vindicated.” “Vindicated” before the vindication was even published!
Their statement contained this telling sentence: “As to the effect of Dr. Barnhouse’s courageous reappraisal of Seventh-Day Adventism, we are convinced that it will not only create a sensation in evangelical circles, but it will lead thousands to restudy the ‘message’ which Seventh-Day Adventists feel called to give to the world in these last days.”
QUESTIONABLE “QUESTIONS ON DOCTRINE” : Just a few months later, early in 1957, the SDA denomination published an official 700-page volume entitled, Seventh-Day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine. The primary purpose of this tome was to convince evangelicals, hand-in-hand with Dr. Barnhouse and Dr. Walter Martin, that theirs was an evangelical body.
PREPOSTEROUS PENTECOSTAL PERCENTAGE: 1957 also witnessed Dr. Barnhouse and Dr. Martin entering into “close fellowship” with the Pentecostalists. Eternity for April, 1958, reported the visit with the leaders of the Assemblies of God at their headquarters in Springfield, Missouri, stating, “We found total disagreement of two percent of our doctrines, and absolute agreement of 95 to 98 percent.” Again, believers were strongly exhorted to enter into fellowship with this anti-security, tongues and healing group.
It was at this time that the Pentecostal plague was beginning to break loose and infect the larger denominations. The Barnhouse-Martin open door policy substantially contributed to the present-day charismatic errors that are rending the Body of Christ.
Here the promoters of oneness gave their blessing to the most divisive and dangerous element of all! An ex-Pentecostal leader stated, “The denominations that are accepting and tolerating the Neo-pentecostals also exhibit tendencies toward Neo-orthodoxy, Neo-evangelicalism, and Neo-morality.” To this day, Dr. Walter Martin frequents the Pentecostal platforms of the country.
Hero Gone Bad: John MacArthur Jr.
The present-day compromise of John MacArthur Jr. is reminiscent of Barnhouse. MacArthur has no shame in regard to who he gives credibility to. MacArthur was corrupted via his friendships and associations with the likes of John Piper and Michael Horton. Though elders are to be beyond reproach, for seven straight years including this one, he will appear on stage with serial sheep abuser and hypocrite extraordinaire, CJ Mahaney. MacArthur came completely out of the closet when he wrote the Forward to Uneclipsing the Son, written by New Calvinist Rick Holland. In the Forward, JM plainly rejects the significant role of the Father and the Holy Spirit in salvation and sanctification.
Biblical Counselors Gone Bad: The National Association of Nouthetic Counselors
Peaking in the early 90’s, this organization could not have found warehouses big enough to archive the stories of changed lives for God’s glory. Through training in this program, I myself was able to prevent a suicide with the Lord’s help. In 1992, a NANC training center in Ohio saw twelve solid conversions to Jesus Christ in one year. Unfortunately, NANC allowed the infiltration of other “biblical” counseling organizations via teaching and board members. Today, NANC is responsible for leading thousands down a path of destruction. Former stalwart members such as Lou Priolo and Martha Peace now drink the kool-aid of New Calvinism and serve it to thousands daily by books and speaking engagements.
Disillusioned Followers of the Always Bad John Piper
A reason for Piper heroship is extremely wanting. He was initially educated in humanistic Philosophy before attending the epicenter of Neo-evangelicalism: Fuller Seminary. Fuller Seminary frequently hosted the likes of Karl Barth during the time that Piper was a student there. The same year that he graduated from Fuller, he went to Germany to study under Neo-orthodox theologians. Though Piper’s pedigree is suspect to say the least, his popularity is unprecedented. Many of Piper’s followers are clearly in the denial stage; chief among them, the former Christian recording artist Steve Camp. Camp has written several articles on his blog that vent his perplexity regarding Piper’s behavior—peppered with statements like, has anybody seen the real John Piper lately? Steven, Steven, Steven, face it—John Piper was never real. Camp also wrote a lengthy article concerning a bizarre concoction by Piper and CJ Mahaney known as “The Scream of the Damned.” Apparently, it taught that Christ was condemned to hell as part of the atonement. One wonders if Piper and Mahaney themselves are amazed at what they get away with.
Christians need to remember that a love for the truth is a particular part of the salvation gift ( 2Thess. 2:10). When it gets right down to it, every Christian has the stuff Noah had—even if they are the last ones on earth to stand for the truth. It’s there, you will find it if you want to. Others have followed in the way of Noah. During the time of Constantine, a notable teacher stood against the onslaught of Arianism and was forced into exile. His name was Athanasius. Someone once said to Athanasius that the whole world was against his uncompromising stand; to which he replied, “Then I am against the world.” This is where the saying Athanasius contra mundum (“Athanasius against the world”) comes from.
He was like Noah. When it gets right down to it, we all are. Compromise only delivers a truce tormented by a nagging conscience. It’s not worth it.
Lou Priolo has a big problem with the slogan, “We must preach the gospel to ourselves every day.” Apparently, some suggest that we should do it every day, and Lou doesn’t think all Christians need to be sanctified by justification daily, only on an as needed basis. In the first post, I shared my dismay that his primary concern is the mere slogan of a doctrine that has been banned in several Presbyterian churches, including the one where he is an elder. Previously, that is. The document posted on their website was pulled down and copies of the statement were “lost.”
Priolo begins the article by concurring with the premise of Sonship Theology: justification is an ongoing work and our sanctification flows from it. Throughout the article, he flip-flops back and forth from the orthodox to unorthodox, and back again. This is very uncharacteristic of the Priolo I knew of in the early 90’s. But his assertion that justification powers our sanctification places him squarely in the Sonship camp. Of course, justification makes sanctification possible, but that’s not the issue here.
Also Sonshipesque in Priolo’s “contention” was the conspicuous absence of any discussion concerning how regeneration and the new birth fit into this picture. Yes, if that isn’t factored in, the power of our sanctification can only come from one place: justification. The absence of this subject did nothing to distance Priolo from hardcore Sonshippers. Readers here often comment, “The subject of the new birth is avoided like the plague in our church.” Priolo stated the following in the aforementioned article:
“Consequently, I have little desire to spend precious moments every day laying anew a foundation that has already been laid for me [But why not if that’s where our motivation comes from?]. Nor do I think that the foundation on which I am building my life somehow needs daily reinforcement [Why not if it motivates us to build?]. My foundation is firm! I would rather (and I believe the bulk of Scripture directs me to) spend my time building upon that foundation by growing in love, in holiness, and in good works [Right, motivated by the prior. No?]. (I don’t believe we should have a reductionist view of the concept of grace either—grace is more than unmerited favor—it is the supernatural ability and desire that God gives His adopted sons and daughters to obey Him [Ok, yes]).”
My focus here is on the statement, “I don’t believe we should have a reductionist view of the concept of grace either—grace is more than unmerited favor—it is the supernatural ability and desire that God gives His adopted sons and daughters to obey Him.” But what about the new birth? One is not possible without the other (sanct./just.), but they function differently. Primarily, sanctification is not powered from the finished work of justification, but rather the new birth/regeneration. The fact that regeneration is missing from Priolo’s argument is truly puzzling. I believe I am in good company here. Jay Adams states on page 34 of Biblical Sonship:
“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 a strong motive for it….On the other hand, regeneration, (quickening, or making alive; Ephesians 2:25) is the true source of sanctification.”
Is everything that contributes to sanctification from “grace.” Doesn’t our new creaturehood enable us make us participants who will be held responsible for how we use God’s gifts? Like most teachers of our day, Priolo fears to clearly state our role in sanctification and thereby suffer the wrath of antinomian reductionists. An increased role by the saints necessarily focuses on the primary tool for such participation: law/word/Scripture.
Priolo continues in the same article to pass on a biblically balanced view of sanctification in order to appease:
And yes, of course, I realize that I can do none of this apart from the Spirit’s enabling power, and that my motivation for working so diligently on my sanctification is out of a heart filled with gratitude for what Christ has done by justifying me (not to mention thanksgiving for a myriad of other mercies with which He has blessed me).
Clearly, Priolo is toeing the Sonship line that working in sanctification comes from “gratitude for what Christ has done by justifying me” [emphasis mine]. In other words, if I may borrow a phrase from Adams, “….a strong motive for it.” What’s the difference? Not much.
As I mentioned in the previous post regarding Priolo’s article, the notion that obedience is always accompanied by gratitude is patently false, and let me add here that it is no different than John Piper Christian mysticism (also note in the first quote his reference to “desire”). Furthermore, the “heart filled with gratitude” aspect hearkens back to Sonship/GS/NC/NCT which teaches that contemplation on the gospel must first fill the heart with gratitude—and then all obedience must flow from that gratitude. Any less than this is “making sanctification the basis for our justification.” Again, God uses many other things in sanctification to motivate us.
Moreover, the theological fencepost word of our day when talking about sanctification is enablement: “And yes, of course, I realize that I can do none of this apart from the Spirit’s enabling power….” Yes, of course Lou, we wouldn’t want to think that you think that it is anything more than that. And don’t worry, I don’t think anybody does.
First of all, I will stop short of speaking out of school because I have not yet endeavored to look into this whole “enablement” thing. Suffice to say for now that enablement doesn’t seem to be a significant biblical concept when compared to “empowered,” “colaboring,” and being “helped,” and “counseled.” In Strong’s exhaustive concordance, the word “enabled” appears once in the New Testament and seems to mean, “strengthened.” When we consider that “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,” who’s doing the doing? And who “can.” It is assumed that God will strengthen us to do whatever He wants us to do; therefore, we are without excuse. But the motivation to do that will not always be gratitude. Hence, like all hardcore Sonshippers, Priolo makes “gratitude/desire” the “motivator/enabler.” But gratitude/desire doesn’t equal enablement. Christians are always thankful at some level, but that is one of many, many motivators in the many-faceted Christian life. Gospel Contemplationism > gratitude/desire > motivation > enablement > obedience is not the biblical schema for sanctification. But if there is something else in this article that Priolo didn’t “balance” with error, it is missing, and that’s on him.
Sometimes it will be fear of being chastised as a son. Sometimes it will be the fear of being held accountable by God’s people and losing the blessedness of their fellowship. Sometimes it will be a sense of duty/valor to take up our cross and sacrifice self. Sometimes it will be designed to encourage another person. Sometimes it will be the desire and privilege to actually please the awesome God who sustains the universe and the galaxies regardless of how we feel. But yet, a NANC Fellow wrote an article entitled, “The Danger of Pleasing God.” Where is the outrage among these supposed lovers of God’s truth? Priolo’s ambiguity does not serve God’s people well in our day.
Like the worst of Sonshippers, Priolo reduces biblical motivation for obedience to gratitude only. If he believes there are other motivations, he certainly forgot to mention them. In the article, he criticizes reductionism while employing it in this confused treatise; one example is reducing all of the motivations/emotions experienced in sanctification to gratitude. And worse yet, like all rabid Sonshippers, he excludes the new birth from the conversation, and probably in his counseling office as well.
Lou Priolo is an elder at Eastwood Presbyterian Church in Montgomery Alabama. Eastwood’s website, at one time, had a posted statement against Sonship Theology. The statement was pulled down and the church no longer retains a copy of it. I was told by a staffer that the former statement closely paralleled Terry Johnson’s treatise against the doctrine.
The well-known motto of the movement was, “We must preach the gospel to ourselves every day.” The very slogan was coined by the father of Sonship Theology, Dr. John “Jack” Miller. This doctrine fundamentally drives 90% of all the biblical counseling in our day. In fact, David Powlison, the most notable and influential figure of the Christian Counseling & Education Foundation, has noted the primary fundamental difference between “first generation” biblical counseling and the second generation: Sonship’s assertion that the cross is for sanctification as much as it is for justification. According to Powlison, Dr. Miller was his “mentor.”
CCEF, through co-relationships and duplicity of board members, has effectively transformed the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors, formally what Powlison considered “first generation biblical counseling,” into a bastion for the same antinomian Sonship theology that drives CCEF. The stated goal of the upstart Biblical Counseling Coalition (which is controlled by CCEF and NANC cronies) is to network the entire Christian counseling community. “Infiltrate” is really the better word. Powlison, like all New Calvinists, thinks he is on the cutting edge of a new Reformation that is saving the church from the present dark age of synergistic sanctification.
Today, an article written by Priolo as a guest writer, entitled, “On Preaching the Gospel to Yourself” was posted on the website for The Institute for Nouthetic Studies, the only biblical counseling organization left that has not been consumed by Sonship Theology. “On Preaching the Gospel to Yourself”? That’s like writing on the dangers of the pen-sized igniters used in nuclear missiles. But I will pause here to lay some groundwork for the thesis of this article.
In the 50’s and 60’s, well-known spiritual leaders begged the Christian community to repent of what was known as Neo-evangelicalism. In a nutshell, it rejected separation to maintain doctrinal purity. Neo-evangelicalism was spawned by Neo-orthodoxy which sought to find middle ground between Modernism (liberal theology) and Fundamentalism. The combination of these two movements (Neo-E./Neo-O.) has culminated into the massive ecumenical mentality of our day. The warnings were not heeded, and the church has all but completely given up its will to discern truth and protect it. Priolo, and his article posted on the INS site is a prime example of what these historical realities have given birth to.
Priolo is deeply involved in all three of the aforementioned counseling organizations (CCEF, NANC, BCC), and his article posted by INS is the epitome of Neo-orthodox fencepost theology. The article is clearly written to appease both second generation counselors and what’s left of the so-called first generation. The post makes some brilliant points that would solidify a contention against the doctrine behind the article’s subject, but the Sonship nomenclature is conspicuously missing by design. Bottom line: to mess with the Sonship label is to mess with David Powlison and a host of others. It seems that Priolo wants to keep friends. Priolo’s article is like writing on the mantra, “I’m lovin’ it” without mentioning McDonalds.
Unfortunately, Priolo begins the article with a fundamental theological flaw and then contradicts himself in the latter parts of the article.
To my way of thinking, the place of the doctrine of justification in the believer’s life is much like the operating system on a computer…. Windows is always up and running, but most of the time, it runs in the background. I don’t see it…. Occasionally, I have to go to the control panel to troubleshoot a problem, make some minor adjustments, or defrag my hard drive, but I don’t give it another thought because I have faith that it is doing what it is supposed to do. So it is with my justification. It is always up and running. Though I am not always consciously thinking about it, everything I do flows from it. Indeed, I could do nothing without it [emphasis mine].
Stop right there. Everything flowing from justification is the crux of the issue. An ongoing work of justification (“running” in the background) is the other bookend of what makes Sonship Theology run on all cylinders. In the beginning of the article, he subscribes to the basic tenets of the doctrine he is supposedly refuting! In Present Truth Magazine, volume 16, article 3, The Australian Forum wrote the following in the article intitled, “Sanctiifcation—Its Mainspring”:
Unless sanctification is rooted in justification and constantly returns to justification, it cannot escape the poisonous miasma of subjectivism, moralism, or Pharisaism.”
All in all, as we shall see, Priolo agrees with the basic tenet of Sonship Theology—he only disagrees with how often we need to apply it. This only seems to circumvent the contemplation aspect of the theology except on a as needed basis. To further this point, note what Priolo states next:
But there are many other things I am called to do (there are many other responsibilities God calls me to fulfill) on which I must diligently focus my attention. Although I am very grateful for it, I cannot allow myself to be distracted by checking the stability of my operating system of justification every five minutes.
This solidifies my point that at issue with Priolo is not the primary tenet of Sonship doctrine, but the frequency in which we check the “operating system of justification.” But that’s not orthodoxy which asserts that justification is a FINISHED work, and a legal declaration that results in the full righteousness of God being accredited to our account. A FINISHED work doesn’t continue to RUN. In the first statement, Priolo wrote that “Indeed, I could do nothing without it [salvation/justification]” which is true in that we cannot have any sanctification without being saved first. But if words mean things, that’s not what he’s saying.
But what about the growing number of those who say that we must (or should or ought to) “preach the Gospel to ourselves every day?” If by Gospel they mean the entire ordo-salutis: effectual calling, regeneration, faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification—the whole enchilada—there is not a problem (other than the fact that the Bible doesn’t exactly command us to do this). But if, like so many seem to be espousing today, they take a reductionist view of the Gospel—reducing it to justification (or to adoption) alone—there is a problem.
This is a good point—though in our day one wonders if we should not look closer at the idea of everything being “the Gospel” instead of making a distinction between the “ministry of the word” and the “ministry of reconciliation.” Priolo properly asserts here that even if that were true (preaching both sanct./just. to ourselves everyday), the Scriptures never tell us to do so. Well, amen to that!
If a new or immature believer does not yet have the faith to believe once and for all that God has truly justified him, he would do well to “preach the Gospel of justification to himself every day” until his faith is mature.
Not so. This is toeing the Sonship line and contradicts Peter’s specific remedy (2Peter, chapter 1) for what Priolo describes.
But to require me to “preach that gospel to myself daily” is to relegate me to the “O ye of little faith” society (which membership I would be only too happy to acknowledge if I thought it were true in regard to my justification). But the truth is that I believe God. I took Him at his Word when He said that He justified me. By and large, I walk around 24/7 with a righteousness consciousness that flows from my faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross. Even in the midst of my sin, I fully believe that I stand righteous and clean before my Lord (that I am still a son who is loved and accepted by my Heavenly Father) because I have been once and for all justified by faith in His blood. Indeed, my absolutely favorite Bible verse is Romans 4:8, “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not take into account.”
Again, this reiterates my point that Priolo’s argument seems to only deal with the frequency issue when he is not contradicting himself with orthodoxy
Consequently, I have little desire to spend precious moments every day laying anew a foundation that has already been laid for me. Nor do I think that the foundation on which I am building my life somehow needs daily reinforcement. My foundation is firm! I would rather (and I believe the bulk of Scripture directs me to) spend my time building upon that foundation by growing in love, in holiness, and in good works. (I don’t believe we should have a reductionist view of the concept of grace either—grace is more than unmerited favor—it is the supernatural ability and desire that God gives His adopted sons and daughters to obey Him.).
Amen! I agree wholeheartedly! But we have gone from a foundation to a computer program running in the background, and back to a foundation. Which is it?
And yes, of course, I realize that I can do none of this apart from the Spirit’s enabling power, and that my motivation for working so diligently on my sanctification is out of a heart filled with gratitude for what Christ has done by justifying me (not to mention thanksgiving for a myriad of other mercies with which He has blessed me).
And no, of course this is dead wrong, and right out of the Sonship/Gospel Sanctification/ New Calvinism/ NCT playbook. The Bible clearly states that God uses many other motivations to help us in sanctification; namely, threats, rewards, and many others.
This is not to say that there aren’t moments in my life when, because I am overwhelmed with the guilt of a particular sin, I have to take a bath in Psalm 32, 103, and Romans 3–5 for a few days in order to personally appropriate that justification which I forensically know is mine but that seems to have eluded me experientially. Nevertheless, these moments of weakness (concerning my faith) thankfully for me have been the rare exception rather than the rule.
Of course, there are many other exceptions that could be cited of people who may rightly be encouraged to take a daily booster shot of the Good News of justification. Perfectionistic people, for example, or legalistic individuals, or those who struggle with certain eating disorders are typically those who don’t comprehend justification and its implications on their lives and therefore would do well to review (indoctrinate themselves with) that part of the Gospel until they are fully assured that what God has promised He is able to perform.
Again, this is in blatant contradiction to 2Peter, chapter 1 which states that building on the foundation of justification makes our calling and election “sure.” We are to “make every effort” to “add” to our faith. Priolo erroneously teaches in this article that meditation on justification doctrine leads to assurance. No, we forget that we have been forgiven when we are not making every effort to add to the foundation of our faith.
So, this is certainly not to imply that there is something wrong with meditating on Christ and what He has done in regard to one’s justification. Indeed, such meditation serves as our greatest motivation for cooperating with the Holy Spirit in the progressive sanctification process. Thus, it is certainly a good thing to do. But, it is the insistence by some that we are all obligated to do this daily that has prompted me to speak out about what I believe amounts to an unbiblical approach to sanctification.
Once again, Priolo’s only objection to the hideous doctrine that he deliberately avoids mentioning is frequency. Whenever needed, not every day, while excluding any mention of what Scripture specifically prescribes.
Meditating on what Christ has done by justifying us is not, from the human perspective, what brings about our progressive sanctification (it is not the scriptural modus operandi for or the practical key to it). Obeying Christ’s commandments (in the power of the Spirit and from a heart that is properly motivated) is what does. Understanding justification (and being appreciative for it) is our primary motivation for sanctification, not a principal means of it.
So again, for those whose faith is weak (momentarily or chronically), or who do not understand or properly value the precious doctrine of justification by faith in Christ, or for those who are so proud as to believe that they can obey the Bible in their own power, I believe they should by all means proclaim the doctrine of justification to themselves as often as necessary until their faith is strengthened or until they come to grips with their own depravity. And for the rest of us, meditating on our justification and being thankful to God for it is a fine and proper thing to do.
This paragraph contains thoughts that are eerily similar to Sonship/GS/NC/NCT tenets:
…. for those who are so proud as to believe that they can obey the Bible in their own power, I believe they should by all means proclaim the doctrine of justification to themselves as often as necessary until their faith is strengthened or until they come to grips with their own depravity.
How would a Christian know (in the midst of “making every effort”) if his/her obedience is in their “own power” or that of the Spirit’s? It seems to leave an either/or ultimatum: either all us, or all of the Spirit. Sonship teaches that it is all of the Spirit. Priolo also seems to indicate that Christians should, “….come to grips with their own depravity.” The total depravity of the saints is a Sonship staple.
But for one Christian who struggles with (or is weak in) his faith to tell those of us who don’t that we are obligated to daily do what his lack of faith or knowledge (or perhaps lack of humility) impels him to do is presumptuous, if not legalistic. And for teachers and preachers of the Word who want to encourage others to meditate on the blessedness of being justified more regularly than perhaps they do in order to be properly motivated to obey God, for such teachers to not clearly delineate the biblical distinctions between justification and sanctification and thereby synchronize them in the minds of their hearers, is to put a stumbling block before those saints whom they are wanting to help walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. The Gospel is more—much more—than justification by faith alone.
Priolo is indicative of the huge problem that we have today with leaders who are in high demand. Their ambiguous teachings are designed to appease all venues or cover for what they really believe. They all contribute to the present-day Sonship tsunami. Clearly, as the pastors who stood against Neo-evangelicalism exhorted, separation is the only answer. Until other leaders say, “enough is enough” and break fellowship with the likes of Priolo until he finds a true love for the truth, the tsunami will continue.
I see that you are still the featured speaker at Clearcreek Chapel’s annual “Family Enrichment Conference” taking place on January 27-28, 2012. Still convinced that you are a man who would never use the position that God has placed him in to give undue credibility to men who are unrepentant regarding evil deeds, I will now make an attempt to spell things out more clearly for you:
Because the Clearcreek elders are drunk with visions of grandeur, they sought to neutralize me as a member because I basically figured out what they were spoon-feeding the congregation. I became a threat to their role as the great new Reformers saving the church from the Dark Age of Synergistic Sanctification.
I left quietly with my family after they used every cult tactic in the book to dissuade my concerns. A letter was issued to all elders and my departure was upon receipt of that letter. The parishioners were not aware of the contention between the elders and me. Less than a week later, two elders, Dr. Devon Berry, an associate professor of psychiatry at UC, and Mark Schindler, arrived at my house and announced that I was “under church discipline.” And this is key: Devon Berry said that it was the “first step of church discipline.” They were obviously concerned that I was no longer under their authority and parishioners would want to know why we left. We had been members there for at least eighteen years and I was a former elder. Russ Kennedy, the pastor/teacher at Clearcreek, may have been concerned that he would be sent packing like he was in Illinois for being less than forthright about his theology.
Though I was dazed and confused about the visit, I did one thing right; I asked that the reasons for the church discipline be put in writing and that I would be given time to pray about it. In the meantime, I was counseled by two pastors to return and “play the game until I could leave in peace,” and was also counseled by my son-in-law (a missionary in Puerto Rico) to NOT submit to the discipline. But here is my first point: regardless of the fact that my life was supposedly full of sin, they waited till I submitted a letter of departure to the elders to put me under church discipline. Why?
After my son-in-law called them on it—it set off a string of blunders and additional lies to cover up other lies. Instead of telling an intelligent lie that I gave them a letter after being confronted about sin I wouldn’t deal with, they instead stated in a letter to me that they did not interpret my letter as intent to leave membership because I didn’t specifically say, “please remove me from membership.” But here is what my letter stated:
After much consideration and prayer, and with a heavy heart, I tell you that there is no possible way I can remain at Clearcreek Chapel with my family. Furthermore, I am not willing to discuss the matter any further. Shirley may remain long enough to wrap-up outstanding ministry while I search for another church home.
Here is their response to me in regard to the charge:
We have attached your letter received by us on December 9, 2007 [actually, they did not attach the letter. This was a ploy to see if I retained a copy for myself because my wife couldn’t find one in my computer files where I normally kept such records]. You have represented this letter as your demand to have your membership removed from the Chapel. No such request or demand is in the letter. You say that you are going to be seeking another church and then state your disagreements with the Chapel. You did not ask to remove your membership. We did not receive this as a request to be removed as a member.
Hence, they unwittingly made the letter the issue and not sin issues, plainly verifying the fact that there were no sin issues being discussed before I submitted the letter. Instead of their response stating, “Paul, the letter is neither here or nor there and is not valid because we were in the second step of church discipline,” they made the interpretation of the letter the issue in order to justify a first step of discipline. But even a child would laugh at the ridiculous notion that my letter was not an intent to separate myself from Chapel membership. Furthermore, the fact that the letter initiated this unjust action speaks for itself. They knew they couldn’t say the letter came after the first step of discipline was initiated, so they had to say the letter wasn’t an intent to depart.
Secondly, the Clearcreek elders realized they had a second problem in the situation. After taking the advice of the two other elders (as opposed to the counsel of my son-in-law) and allowing Clearcreek to hold me hostage there for almost four months, I submitted a second letter to inform the Clearcreek elders that I had been counseled by other pastors to leave there with my family at all cost. Devin Berry and Mark Schindler then returned to my home to verify that my letter was an intent to leave membership. Why did they not ask for such verification in the first visit? But the bigger question that they anticipated from people was the following: “Why wouldn’t his attempt to leave be the second step of church discipline?” Well, they attempted to cover their tracks on that in the same letter:
On January 8, you received a visit from two elders who informed you that you were at the second stage of corrective discipline. You were given a letter outlining the category of sins, some specific examples of those sins and what true, godly repentance would entail. You did not then respond that you were not a member and not subject to discipline. You said you would prayerfully consider what we had to say and how you would respond.
I responded in a letter to their fellowship of churches:
Furthermore, in another lame attempt to cover their behavior, they claim (in the same letter) that I was presented with a second letter by two elders that initiated a second step of church discipline. I received no such letter; nor did I meet with two elders in regard to a second step of church discipline. In anticipation of these letters sent by me, I made the following request to the Clearcreek elders:
“In your written response to the website: http://www.eldersresolution.org, you claim that I was presented with a letter by two elders on January 8, 2008, that specifically stated that I was in the second step of church discipline. I respectfully request that a copy of this letter be sent to me, along with the names of the two elders that presented this letter to me at that time.”
The request was ignored. Why? Because no such letter was ever drafted and no such meeting ever took place; that’s why. In addition, such a letter could only produce additional contradictions, even if it was produced.
Apparently forced into a position to reply, they sent me the following email:
In our response to the website, we did not say that the letter given you “specifically stated” that you were in the second step of church discipline. In our response to the website, we wrote the following:
“On January 8, you received a visit from two elders who informed you that you were at the second stage of corrective discipline. You were given a letter outlining the category of sins, some specific examples of those sins and what true, godly repentance would entail. You did not then respond that you were not a member and not subject to discipline. You said you would prayerfully consider what we had to say and how you would respond.”
Also, we misread our records. On January 8, 2008 there was an Elder’s Meeting in which the elders who visited with you in December gave their report.
After leaving the church discipline and Clearcreek for the second time, and entering into counseling with pastor Rick Wilson, a certified NANC counselor, the Clearcreek elders excommunicated me on a Sunday morning without stating specific reasons and deliberately leaving the parishioners to their own imaginations. It is the most despicable form of slander I have ever witnessed in my life. Furthermore, a parishioner sent me the following email shortly thereafter:
But more questions arose, especially concerning church discipline. More and more it seemed they selected the people for discipline, while others were left alone. I am a prime example. I realize they don’t have the resources to follow everyone around, but I was even living with my [boyfriend/girlfriend] at one point and [elder’s name withheld] just eventually quit talking to me- though my membership remains and I was never brought up on any “charges”. I’d been in counseling for much of the entire time I attended. There are more strange happenings, but I won’t get into all of it.
I later met with this parishioner face to face and confirmed the fact that the Clearcreek elders had full knowledge that this Chapel member was cohabitating outside of marriage while putting me under a completely bogus church discipline. Moreover, they submitted a six page resolution commanding my wife to return to the Chapel, stating that I had been declared an unbeliever by them and had no authority in her life. They also offered to supply her with housing, a job, and attorneys fees if she decided to divorce me. After accusing me of not sufficiently supplying for my family in a three-year period prior to 2007, their very own attorney supplied tax records in a domestic court hearing showing that I made over 100,000 dollars in 2005 in an attempt to elicit more child support that was being paid in the temporary order.
Dr. Priolo, these are wicked men. Not only do they teach blatant false doctrine, their vile character precedes them. If you go there, you are a partaker in their evil. And I will not go the way of those who have fled to other states to avoid their persecution, I will stand against them and their filthy false doctrine till my dying day, so help me God.
Paul M. Dohse
To Elder Lou Priolo, Eastwood Presbyterian Church
I am writing you this letter to ask that you stand for the truth and families. As you know, standing for families and truth means more than writing books about it. At issue is your planned teaching engagement at Clearcreek Chapel’s “Family Enrichment Conference” in January of 2012. At issue is the fact that such appearances by teachers of your stature lends unwarranted and dangerous credibility to men who have wreaked havoc in the lives of many people through their unbiblical counsel and cult-like behavior.
This is an open letter because the likes of Robert Jones and Stuart Scott have ignored my pleadings in the past. Scott’s response was typical of those in our day who claim to love the truth—it went something like this: “Not my problem.” Robert Jones, whose claim to fame is a “peacekeepers” ministry, also ignored the pleadings of this ministry and stood with Clearcreek Chapel though that church has a very lengthy list of unresolved conflict with many, many Christians. If I didn’t know better, I would say that there is a mode of operation among the visible leaders of our day that automatically dismisses the evangelical peasantry they are selling books to, but maybe my doubts on that are naive.
Among those, at least two families chose to move to other states to get as far away from the Chapel as possible. Not my choice. The Chapel’s outrageous and unbiblical behavior towards my family can be observed here: How PPT Came About. They have been confronted on numerous occasions and refuse to repent. Therefore, they need to be treated like any other “believers” who refuse to repent according to Matthew 18.
If you choose to question them about this matter, let me send you court documents from the divorce proceedings and the Guardian ad Litem—people tend not to tell the same stories under oath that they do in church. You may also want a copy of a letter they sent me explaining away a false accusation they were caught in: they supposedly thought they had brought my bogus church discipline to a second level because of a mistake made on the minutes of an elder’s meeting. A church of less than 300 people, eight elders, and they thought I was in the second step of discipline because of a mistake in the minutes of a meeting? Right. Actually, the lie was told to try to cover for other documented behavior after I sent a letter to the fellowship of churches they belong to.
Dr. Priolo, I recently had a discussion with a pastor who has noticed a trend in Christians being reluctant to join churches or enter into formal biblical counseling with pastors. That shouldn’t surprise us. When the chips are down, parishioners will be on their own and they know it. It’s time for the professional courtesies to stop. You men are not doctors and lawyers, you’re pastors—your allegiance is to Christ for the sheep—not each other.
Be different. Send the right message. That’s my plea to you.
Paul M. Dohse