Paul's Passing Thoughts

Lying About Tchividjian: Exhibit B; Jerry Wragg the Rabbit Hunter

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on May 28, 2014


“Pastor” Jerry Wragg was called on by John MacArthur Jr. to bring “clarity” to the sanctification issue at the 2014 Shepherds’ Conference held annually at MacArthur’s church. Wragg split the sanctification controversy into three camps within the present-day Neo-Calvinist resurgence: Reformed, T4G, and gospel-centered. While making Tullian Tchividjian the scapegoat for all of the confusion, the fact remains that these groups all believe the same thing. And frankly, like all of them, Wragg knows this. They all know that the Reformation was founded on a Dualism interpretation of reality as opposed to a grammatical interpretation of reality. None of this is about Bible doctrine—it’s about philosophy and they know it.

The contention is really about the communication of what they all believe to the masses. Wragg et al take exception to Tchividjian’s straight forward approach to Reformed metaphysics. Like John Piper has stated openly, God’s people are not ready for the hard truth of the authentic Reformed gospel.

I grew up rabbit hunting with my grandfather. We always hunted them with our favorite rabbit dog, “Jack.” Rabbit dogs are of the beagle breed. When you jump a rabbit, they run away in a big circle and will end the circle where they were originally jumped, but will then go to their hole or another hiding place. If a hunter does not ambush the rabbit while waiting in the general area of the original jumping point, the beagle, or beagles will be left running in circles as they follow the rabbits scent.

beagle 2This is why all Reformed teachers are rabbit hunters. The rabbit is orthodoxy, and Reformed followers are a huge pack of beagles. The exception to this analogy is the Reformed hunters never shoot the rabbit—the goal is to keep the doggies running in circles. This hunting technique can be seen clearly in Wragg’s message. And hence, the pastor beagles at the conference will go back to their local churches and run the beagle puppies in the same circles accordingly.

In the message, Wragg makes Tchividjian the central point of contention while propagating the exact same thing that Tchividjian teaches. This is not commendable; even beagles know when the scent is different. To me, thousands of nodding pastors sitting under this academic bunny trail is no different from the saluting masses who listened to Adolf Hitler in the 30’s.

Wragg’s bunny circle was a big one, a whopping 12,000 words. He states the reason for this early in the run:

Hi. Well, I have the unenviable task of dealing with a subject that really could go about five or six different ways. In fact, this could be a whole seminar on law versus gospel or law and gospel relationship. This could be a whole seminar on the sanctification process itself and a host of other things. But since I’ve called it the new antinomianism, obviously, you know that I’m trying to deal, in this session, with this entire discussion of the relationship between justification, sanctification, and particularly as it relates to how we change and some of the terminology that is going around today.

First of all, none of these guys believe we change as people, that’s just a big fat lie and they know it. They believe we experience righteousness and God uses us to manifest righteousness in a realm. Righteousness is done to us while we are unable to do righteousness. Likewise, in regard to salvation, the ability to be persuaded is to act on righteousness instead of righteousness acting upon us. Again, they condone all of the assumptive language concerning the idea of obedience because we are not “ready” for the deep hard truths that they are gifted to accept with all joy concerning the majesty of God. As church historian John Immel aptly points out, these Reformed beliefs have significant kinship to Stoicism and the glorification of fatalism. The definition of bravery is to accept hopelessness and its supposed Theocentrism.

When we consider the great teachings of Scripture, they are not there just to give us information and they are not to teach us what we can do in our own strength. In Musings 34 ( we looked at how believing that the doctrine of justification is true is not the same thing as being justified. The new birth was also mentioned at the end. In the passage above (John 3:3-5) Jesus speaks pointedly and with power in a way that reflects on the issue being mused on here. Jesus did not tell Nicodemus that he must know the truth about the new birth in order to enter the kingdom. Jesus also did not tell Nicodemus that he must believe the truth about the new birth in order to enter the kingdom. Instead of that, Jesus told Nicodemus that he must actually be born again in order to enter the kingdom. There is a huge difference between believing what is true and what is true actually happening to you (God Loves Himself .wordpress .com: Musing 35; February 10, 2014).

And why is the relationship between gospel and law so complicated? It’s not complicated at all; the Bible will either judge those who are under its condemnation, or it will free those who now learn it and obey it as a way to love God and others:

Romans 8:2 – For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

The reason it is complicated is because it is the integration of Scripture with Augustinian Neo-Platonist philosophy. This is conspicuous church history for anyone who will investigate it on their own without a play by play from the rabbit hunters. That play by play is a circle. The beginning of the circle, and the fact that these guys don’t believe anything different is revealed by Wragg early on:

So on one side there is this group of people who are strongly believing that the lion share of their reformed brothers and sisters are drifting into sort of a legalism. They’re drifting away from the freedom of gospel grace. That’s the concern on the part of some, that somehow striving to obey the gospel is going back to the very law from which we’ve been freed in justification. And so they talk about believing in grace and remembering grace, and they major on the indicatives of our union with Christ. And so the warning goes up that they are concerned about the danger of becoming like a Pharisee and performing commands with no heart. The legalism term gets thrown around quite a bit at fellow Christians especially those who might talk about submission or duty to Christ or effort in sanctification. And even there’s a suspicion on the rise of any sermon or ministry that emphasizes obedience to commands rather than this language of the high thoughts of God’s grace.

Stop right there. If I didn’t know any better, and I am not sure that I do, the likes of Jerry Wragg think this is all a cute game in how they talk in code. They seem to be amused at how they can say something plainly and in broad daylight while knowing that the simplicity of the words they use will go right over the heads of those listening. It’s an arrogant show of intellectual superiority enjoyed by the other philosopher kings looking on in amusement. They think the Lord looks on in approval because they are telling the truth on a higher spiritual plane while pontificating the truth to the peasants in understandable mythological narratives. This is the mythological noble lie to keep the masses calm which was dignified by the Sophists, and integrated into Scripture resulting in orthodoxy. It reminds me, to a “T” of the dialogue between Socrates and his understudies.

What am I speaking of? Supposedly, Wragg is speaking against all obedience flowing from gospel contemplationism. He knows, for the most part—that beagle won’t hunt. But note carefully how he frames the issue at hand; viz, obedience in sanctification:

That’s the concern on the part of some, that somehow striving to obey the gospel is going back to the very law from which we’ve been freed in justification.

Please note: “obey the gospel” is a salvation term. It is a term that is exclusive to justification. Wragg is clearly talking about this term in a sanctification context:

Romans 10:16 – But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?

2 Thessalonians 1:8 – In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:

1 Peter 4:17 – For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?

Wragg uses this exact same term regarding obedience in the Christian life—it’s no different than anything Tchividjian is saying. Wragg continues:

On the other side, there is this group of people that are strongly believing that this teaching either wrongly minimizes an outright – or a role of the law in the Christian’s life or outright ignores it. There is this concern on this other side of the aisle that reformed brothers and sisters are abandoning what it truly means to know and love Christ in the imperatives and are running headlong into full-blown antinomianism. If you think it’s nothing more than an intramural debate, I’ll tell you that so far I’ve been contacted by dozens and dozens of friends and churches who have said their churches are dividing over this.

Here’s how the typical situation goes. At some point, a pastor or a leader or a group of pastors and elders will be rightly teaching and emphasizing the doctrine of justifying grace, and then they begin to give emphatic cautions about terms like duty and striving for holiness. And so their sermon starts to become laced with cross-centered terminology, free grace terminology. They speak of obedience as unrequired or spontaneous and rising only from love and gratitude as legitimate motive. And so that leadership team will make strong contrast between being gospel-centered and obeying rules. And this dichotomy is created. And then that’s when the word “legalism” starts to be generously applied to any emphasis on self-discipline, submission, and keeping commands. People in the congregation are hearing these new emphases, and they become concerned at what seems like a significant shift in the way we live the Christian life, in the way change occurs in the Christian life. And some in the church get together and they confirm their mutual concerns and they approach the leadership but unfortunately doesn’t seem to be a way to bring these reformed gospel loving groups to agree on the problem, what is the core of the problem or to bring some biblical balance.

What balance? You mean talking about being sanctified by justification in a more balanced way? Wragg then launched into a massive treatise regarding the supposed history of antinomianism through the prism of Reformed understanding. This is the Indy 500 of rabbit trails. These guys use a distorted definition of antinomianism to say the same thing in a way that seems more palatable to those who trust orthodoxy. Here is the way Wragg qualified antinomianism in light of the discussion:

Yet, while it’s true that only the power of the gospel can save, here’s how Tullian draws the implications from this story of Zacchaeus and his assumption that Jesus never told him what to do. He goes on to say that the law prescribes good works but only grace can produce them. I agree. The requirements of the law, listen, spring unsummoned from a forgiven heart. By definition, good works can’t be forced or coerced. They are instinctive, reflexive, and spontaneous. Then this, underserved grace creates a new life of unrequired obedience bringing forth more good works than any laying down of the law ever could. So basically, notice the terminology. Jesus never tells him what to do. Requirements of the law spring unsummoned from a forgiven heart. Undeserved grace creates a new life of unrequired obedience. And what the free grace movement is continuing to promote is the idea that the grace of justification generates works without any relationship to the obligations of the law, no relationship to the obligation sense of it at all. The need for holiness is never completely put out, but it’s become kind of this, I like to call it, I told my staff, it’s like a red-headed stepchild to the issue of grace.

The claim is that when believers fully understand grace, then vices, the kind that Hebrews says so easily entangle us, will be exposed for the fraudulent promises they are, and we will enjoy the liberating grace of God, listen, without having to strive, without having to struggle, or without having to obey from a sense of obligation. In other words, obedience, they say, out of duty is always wrong. Now I’m convinced that this conflates, intermingles, and blurs the issue of justification, the freedom we have in justification, it conflates that with progressive sanctification. And the free grace movement often bleeds the believer’s no condemnation status into the progressive sanctification dynamic so that the will is viewed as passive in spiritual growth and only moved upon by the motives of gratitude. That’s how they get there. That’s the tracing of the line. And this, by the way, beloved, was the battle of 17th century antinomianism. Antinomianism has always said that the promises of the gospel are the exclusive motivations for obedience. They’ve always denied that the Bible standards and the Bible’s warnings are a means God uses to motivate his people. They’ve always said that.

Now listen, this 12,000 word drone is designed to wear out the beagles and save the orthodox rabbit, so let me boil it all down for you. If you would like, you can view the transcript here Jerry Wragg in all of its literary marathon glory. Like all of these guys, Wragg is propagating a sanctification by faith alone, but is making the crux of the issue…the way sanctification by justification is experienced. He objects to Tchividjian et al narrowing sanctification to a joyful passivity that flows from gratitude alone; this is his definition of antinomianism. He asserts that even though  sanctification is by faith alone, it is experienced “subjectively.”

And I don’t like talking about change that is always about visceral evaluations and experiential terminology. I don’t like that. I like the language of faith. It’s very clear to me, self-emptying and trusting myself to what God says. Is that subjective? Yeah, it affects me. And then I’m called subjectively to live out the truth. I get that. But my power to do so is not grounded in me or in my experience or even my evaluation of it. God has to accept a pretty imperfect duty and delight from Jerry Wragg every day. He has to accept a pretty imperfect version of all of that. And by his grace, I’m under no condemnation, but he empowers me to do that and the greater and more strong my faith, the more my everything will mature, emotions included. So people sometimes will list passages where God commands us to delight in him and love him and rejoice in him. In response to those things, I just say amen. But what seems missing quite often is the language of faith. And so by drifting into the place where you largely define and evaluate your spiritual condition by internal subjective senses, it becomes a bit of a dead end.

This is exactly what Tchividjian teaches. This is the hard work of “self-emptying” or stated another way by others, including Tchividjian, “a lifestyle of repentance.” Wragg seems to be accusing the “other” camp of rejecting any use of the law in sanctification, including its supposed purpose of showing our…as stated by others, “sinfulness as set against God’s holiness.” This isn’t so, but like the others, Wragg states that the subjective results are not grounded in anything we actually do, but…

my power to do so is not grounded in me or in my experience or even my evaluation of it.

Nothing different is being said here. The problem is: how it is being stated by the likes of Tchividjian is giving the beagles a heads up. It is causing the beagles to pause in the chase and say, “Is it just me, or are we running in a circle?” Moreover, John MacArthur has framed the discussion in the exact same way that Wragg contested at MacArthur’s 2014 conference; eg, that obedience is “always sweet, never bitter,” and the idea that Christians obey commands that they are mentally unaware of because the Holy Spirit is the one who applies truth. MacArthur has stated he only preaches the word, and the Holy Spirit applies it to life, comparing biblical instruction, disparagingly, to telling people how to get a parking spot at the mall.

Wragg seemed to be primarily addressing the following perceived problem within the overall beagle and rabbit show: Christians shouldn’t evaluate their spiritual condition by their joy level; they shouldn’t put any credence in that at all—they should merely come empty handed back to Christ by faith alone in the promise alone (as a Christian). You could barely slip a playing card between the two “differences.” This reveals a possible, and sad reality: the primary bone of contention that Wragg was addressing was not the sanctification by faith alone that James attacked in his epistle, but the supposed assertion by the “other” camp that joy is synonymous with the presence of saving faith.

I will close with this excerpt that clearly reveals that there is really no difference in the camps:

So I would suggest that what this sensual, culture-immersed generation needs is not another excuse for their guilt and weakness but a message of real power, real power, the power that God assures us in the very gospel of grace and the power that comes by the means God chose. The Bible never pits indicatives against imperatives. The grace that affected and secured my justification is the same grace that empowers me in the use of God’s intended means, which are the word and prayer and service and praise, et cetera. And the key that unleashes the Spirit’s power in sanctification is through faith. When you entrust yourself to God’s word in the moment of temptation, that’s what starves the flesh. That’s mortification. The Scripture teaches us that Christ’s victory over sin and death in the past assures us of dynamic power over sin in the present, Romans 6:11 and following. And when we’re weak and experiencing defeat, the Bible’s answer has never been hit reset on your justification and stop trying. On the contrary, even an exhausted believer who’s been wrongly trying to perform for God shouldn’t gloss over the sorrows or some fresh-coated justification because they need to get at the roots of unbelief that prevent them from dying to self.

Wragg makes the definition of antinomianism those who rely on feelings only and reject any use of the law, but only hit a justification reset bottom. His answer is to strive in sanctification and feel the pain, but it is a striving to use the law for revealing how evil we are (as Christians), and the trusting of what Christ did in His life of obedience which is imputed to our Christian life: “The Scripture teaches us that Christ’s victory over sin and death in the past assures us of dynamic power over sin in the present.” It’s the same old Reformed double imputation that has always plagued the church for centuries:

The grace that affected and secured my justification is the same grace that empowers me in the use of God’s intended means, which are the word and prayer and service and praise, et cetera. And the key that unleashes the Spirit’s power in sanctification is through faith….[ALONE IN SANCTIFCATION!].

It’s all the same antinomianism that is really a rejecting of the believer’s participation in fulfilling the law of the Spirit of life. Instead of the law of the Spirit of life setting us free from the law of sin and death, the Reformed gospel keeps us under that law so that the Christian life must be lived the same way we were saved: by faith alone. Faith alone in sanctification keeps the law of sin and death satisfied because the works of Christ are perpetually applied to it by faith alone.

That’s what they all believe. And that antinomian dog will not hunt.




8 Responses

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  1. paulspassingthoughts said, on May 28, 2014 at 3:50 PM

    Reblogged this on Clearcreek Chapel Watch.


  2. Lydia said, on May 28, 2014 at 4:11 PM

    Yes you are right. They do not believe people can change. It is that simple. Period. And it is everywhere. BTW: Wade is saying something to the effect of if you are not called an antinomian then you are not preaching the gospel.

    This is excellent news for guys like Mahaney. See, Mahaney cannot change. Their cheap grace will take care of Mahaney.


    • paulspassingthoughts said, on May 28, 2014 at 4:19 PM

      Yep, Piper has said that, Tullian T. has said that, and now, apparently the WadeWatch wonder as well.


    • paulspassingthoughts said, on May 28, 2014 at 4:20 PM

      If someone can find me a link on that–it would be great.


  3. Carmen S. said, on May 28, 2014 at 5:01 PM

    What Does It Mean to Be Born Again?( Reformation Trust Publishing, 2010, R.C. Sproul)
    Chapter Three:Regeneration Is The Beginning( page 28)

    “I get annoyed when I hear well-intentioned preachers, in an attempt to convince people of all the riches of the Christian faith, say, “Come to Jesus and all your problems will be over.” It’s not true. My life didn’t begin to be complicated until I became a Christian, because only then did I have to go to war every day between that which is of the flesh and that which is of the Spirit.

    The conflict is ongoing because the capacity for evil that resides in the heart of a regenerate person is almost without limit. We ought not be too shocked when we see Christian leaders falling into serious sin. We have the power of a new life, but that doesn’t automatically erase our pre-conversion tendencies ( see Gal. 5:16-26; Romans 6-7).”

    Total depravity of the Christian, correct?
    The power of the new life? Code words?
    The pewsitters should give the mighty leaders a free pass?


    • paulspassingthoughts said, on May 28, 2014 at 5:20 PM

      Right, a “new life” not a “new us.” Code for “no new birth.”


    • paulspassingthoughts said, on May 28, 2014 at 5:34 PM

      “the capacity for evil that resides in the heart of a regenerate person is almost without limit.” And the Bible states this where exactly?


  4. trust4himonly said, on May 28, 2014 at 11:54 PM

    Ha! Just got a rebuke and correction from the Holy Spirit today- basically stating, “Stop blaming circumstances and people and take accountability for your own error”. I knew it was the Father and He told me to change, think and do differently. What was amazing, however, was the love He showed me in that moment and the power He gave me to take on that issue and change! It is a “it takes two to tango” relationship, not a one way transaction. We are given that ability to do whatever is necessary in our sanctification process. You take one look at the Old Testament characters- No where was there any indication that these guys had a “let go, let God” attitude. Sometimes it required them to give 90% sometimes 10%, but there was always participation with the Father. Abraham did not just sit there twiddling his thumbs when God told him to go sacrifice his son Isacc or make his way to the Promise Land.
    Such a outright lie and deception from the neo-Cals – and to think I fell for John MacArthurs teachings at one time.


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