Paul's Passing Thoughts

How and Why “Gospel-Driven” Sanctification / Sonship Theology Creates Cult-Like Churches

Posted in Uncategorized by pptmoderator on February 21, 2015

PPT HandleOriginally published January 31, 2011

In all of my writings on gospel-driven sanctification / gospel sanctification, and its apparent mother, Sonship Theology, I have primarily addressed the error, and not its ill effects on discipleship and people’s lives. Basically, refutation of false doctrine has prevention in mind, not theological debate for entertainment purposes.

My firsthand experience with a “gospel centered” church is applicable here because this same church and its leaders are well respected in Reformed circles, and especially among those who propagate gospel-driven sanctification. Paul David Tripp speaks at this particular church often, and others such as Stewart Scott and Robert Jones have recently participated in major events there as well. Therefore, it is fair to conclude that this particular church’s activities are not considered to be abnormal among “gospel centered” persuasions.

The church I am using as an example regarding the “what,” (I will write about the “how” last) would classify themselves as being a New Covenant Theology church. They consider “Theology of the Heart, redemptive-historical hermeneutics, gospel-driven sanctification, and Christian hedonism to be tenets of NCT. What does this church and many others look like as a result of this theology?

Foremost, the leadership is very controlling. Members must have permission from the elders to vacate membership status. Those who attempt to leave membership for “unbiblical reasons” can be placed under church discipline. I have personally counseled former parishioners of said church on how to “get out of there” with minimal stress, and how to leave without being placed under church discipline. At this particular church, leaving for doctrinal reasons is considered “unbiblical.” In one particular case where the elders deemed the reason for departure “biblical,” the parishioner informed me that the chairman of the elders told him, “We would never prevent you from leaving for that reason.”

These elders are also very controlling in the area of thought. In a sermon preached by one of its elders entitled, “How to Listen to a Sermon” the following idea was introduced: Christians are not able to grow spiritually from personal study, but must only learn from sitting under preaching; specifically, preaching by the elders at that church. Here is an excerpt from the manuscript:

“You think, perhaps, that [you] can fill up the other half of the plate with personal study, devotions, or quiet times, or a radio program. Beloved, you cannot. Scripture is relatively quiet on such practices. [Particularly on the issue of radios]. But on preaching, the case is clear and strong. Neglect preaching and neglect your soul. I know that some are kept from services for legitimate reasons which are out of their control, but I doubt that is the case for most. I beseech you, change your ways for the good of this people and for the good of your own selves. Give the Word its rightful place. As I have often said, there is no better place you could be than here, under the preaching of the Word.”

Of course, the first thing that would come to mind for any thinking Christian is the biblical account of the Bereans who studied the Scriptures on their own to determine the truthfulness of Paul’s teaching. But according to this elder, the account in Acts 17 wasn’t referring to that, but rather was illustrating the proper way to listen to a sermon:

“The text here implies that there was an interactive nature between three entities: The preacher, the hearers, and the Word. Note this cycle: Paul, from the Word, delivers words. The Bereans, from Paul’s words, go to the Word. The Word cycles from God, through the preacher, to the people, back to the Word, and this, verse 12 tells us, produced belief in the God of the Word.”

In other words, personal study alone cannot produce belief; preaching from an elder must be part of the “cycle” that produces belief (notice the emphasis on “belief” rather than increased knowledge per the progressive justification element of gospel sanctification). In fact, he said that personal study only “flavors” the preaching:

“So a good preparation for the public preaching of the Word is the private consumption of the Word. It will be the seasoning that brings out the flavor – salt on your French fries, if you will”

So, personal Bible study isn’t the food, it’s just the flavoring. And, personal Bible study is for “flavoring,” not discernment. Buyer beware.

In another category under mind control, separate small groups that meet during the week under the supervision of individual elders in homes of members are instructed not to associate, or speak with members who have left for doctrinal reasons. Also, the primary purpose of the meetings is to get feedback from the parishioners on what was taught the previous Sunday, and fielding objections or concerns. In other “gospel centered” churches, these mid-week meetings are closed to outsiders, or non-members. These meetings have also been known to produce weird occurrences like the time an elder unexpectedly produced all of his financial records in plain view of the group for their inspection. A parishioner confided in me that he found the incident to be surreal, and more information than he cared to know about.

Unknown, for the most part, is the gospel-driven use of what’s called redemptive church discipline. It is a staple of these churches, and it is a very broad use of church discipline. Reformed Christians who join “gospel centered” churches assume it is a reference to traditional forms of church discipline. Parishioners can be placed in this process for any sin, and without any prior notice or inclination. It is not the normal process of inquisitive steps to determine a Christian’s willingness to repent, but more like a counseling process in which elders judge when the parishioner has actually repented. Verbal repentance on the part of the subject is not accepted. Members are not free to leave membership while in this process without being excommunicated for supposedly attempting to vacate membership while in the midst of an unresolved sin issue. Those who dispute gospel sanctification are often placed into the process to convert them to a “redemptive” view of sanctification. They either convert, or they’re excommunicated. Accounts of “gospel centered” churches using this process to control parishioners is vast.

However, the major complaint coming out of these churches is the ignoring of clear biblical mandates by their elders. Parishioners are often perplexed by this. But this is because the elders of these churches believe the Bible is solely for the purpose of showing forth redemptive principles (ie., the gospel) and not instruction. Per New Covenant Theology, they are only obligated to a “higher law of love” which replaced biblical imperatives. The idea is the following: all actions done with the motive of love are righteous. As Francis Chan wrote, “….because when we are loving, we can’t sin”(Crazy Love p.102). As in one case when an elder was caught counseling someone’s wife without the husband’s knowledge – his defense was that he did so “in love.” Therefore, just about anything goes in gospel-driven churches, and well published accounts include excommunicating hundreds of members at one time for non-attendance, which is a questionable act when Scripture is considered to say the least.

How does this happen? First, it begins with a niche doctrine. Propagators often admit that gospel sanctification is a “radical departure” from orthodox doctrine. Those are the words of the propagators, not mine. Any movement that begins with a niche doctrine is in danger of becoming a cult, that’s Cult Apologetics 101. My research has made the following evident: the doctrine was conceived by a man named Jack Miller in, or about 1980.

Secondly, the niche doctrine draws leaders who are more interested in being unique than being in the truth. Take note of what one of the elders of the aforementioned church said while introducing a Sunday school class teaching Christian hedonism: “This doctrine is what makes us unique.” Whenever the goal is to be unique, trouble is not far behind.

Thirdly, niche doctrines and a striving to be different leads to subjectivity and confusion because the leaders are constantly striving to make the doctrine fit with reality and orthodoxy. This results in the kind of events mentioned above.

Fourthly, these elements mixed with the fact that most Reformed churches are autonomous in their polity is an extremely dangerous combination. Basically, the leadership is not accountable and the congregation is on their own.

Niche doctrines, the control of members in thought and action, the ignoring of clear biblical mandates, misuse of unbiblical church discipline in order to control parishioners through fear, manipulation, and intimidation; this is how the “gospel centered” leaders of our day adorn their vile doctrine. Therefore, perhaps they should be named with the cult leaders of ages past accordingly.

paul

Ground Zero for Understanding the Biblical Counseling Movement

Posted in Uncategorized by pptmoderator on February 2, 2015

CWW 4

Originally published September 18, 2013

“I believe this will go down in church history as one of the most grotesque betrayals ever perpetrated on a man in the name of friendship and the gospel.” 

A Chapter Theses for Clouds Without Water: The Biblical Counseling Movement; It’s True History and Doctrine

 In the Beginning, Plato, and then Augustine.

During the first century, the upstart assemblies of the risen Christ suffered a viral affront from Gnostic sects. The first century church was made up of people from all socioeconomic strata, and the Gnostics infiltrated Christianity for that purpose. Those in the first century church well-endowed with money were a valuable resource, and this is who the Gnostic sects primarily targeted with their false doctrine.

Gnosticism has always been about elitism, power, and money. If you want to see an immaculate mural of the American church, read Philip J. Lee’s “Against the Protestant Gnostics.”

Gnosticism finds its roots in the philosophy of Plato. Every American born into the world should be thoroughly apprised of Plato the man and his philosophy. To understand Plato is to understand Western culture politically and spiritually. All the philosophers agree on this point. From there, the math is easy: Augustine was the father of Reformation doctrine, and a rabid follower of Plato. Augustine had little use for the Bible without Platonist insight, and considered Plato a Pre-Christianity Christian.

Of course, the favorite red herring is that Plato is not agreed with on every point, but the fact remains that his primary construct founded Reformed theology: the incompetence of man, and the need for a select few (the enlightened) to rule over the masses. Those with gnosis know how society best functions, and they know how the masses can find individual peace from the desires that rule over them.

The Age of Enlightenment (circa 1630) produced men who were the first to confront Plato’s construct successfully. The most formidable product of that movement was the American experiment which obviously turned out quite well. It was founded on the competence of the individual. The competition was the Platonist Puritans who unfortunately survived the voyage from Europe and wreaked havoc on the East coast. But fortunately, their worldview kept them from settling further inland. “Go west young man!” is hardly the motivational words of competence found among the purer forms of Reformed thought.

Let there be no doubt about it, the idea of merging church and state is grounded in the religion of man’s incompetence. The masses need the state to take care of them. Plato’s philosopher kings contrive orthodoxy, and the soldiers enforce it. This concept did not find its way into the Westminster Confession by accident.  Even those who think the state should be separate from the church think a utopia would arise if the church ran the state. “Separation of church and state” doesn’t mean no theocracy; theocracy would be a good thing, supposedly. The state has always had an interest in ruling over religion because ideas are dangerous, and the church has always been a willing participant if the state agrees to enforce their orthodoxy. The battle between the two for the upper hand of control is the political intrigue that is European history in a nutshell. And that is how the world as we know it will end: the zenith of church statecraft as described in the book of Revelation.

This is Western history, and the  children of the enlightenment would have no part of it on American soil. Ten years after the Declaration of Independence, James Madison successfully stopped a European style push for a church state in A Memorial in Remonstance Against Religious Assessments. For all practical purposes, it was an indictment against the fruits of European Reformed doctrine.

The Reformation’s Historical Cycle of Social Death and Resurgence

The Reformers, being children of Plato, didn’t interpret reality with a normative epistemology. Plato’s Achilles’ heel has always been the application of Eastern mysticism. Instead of reality being interpreted empirically, and a course of action being determined by discovery, conclusions are drawn by using interpretive gateways to the “pure” form of reality that is hopefully good. Plato thought it was good, but his interpretive gateway to reality rejected the five senses out of hand. Gnosis was the key.

The Reformers merely replaced gnosis with the personhood of Christ as a sort of stargate to reality. That reality was predicated on the difference between the unchangeable pure form of Christ, and the inherent evil of man dwelling in a world that constantly changes. Plato equated the pure forms with immutable objectivity, and evil matter with mutable subjectivity. Hence, today’s Platonist Reformers speak of the “objective gospel experienced subjectively.”  This is clearly Plato’s metaphysical construct based on the incompetence of man in regard to interpreting reality. Like Plato, the Reformers of old and new alike bemoan man’s attempt to understand reality “in the shadows” of all matters that “eclipse Christ.” While donning the persona of Biblicism, pastors like Steve Lawson call for pastors to “come out from the shadows.”

This is the theme of books like “Uneclipsing the Son” by John MacArthur confidant Rick Holland. In his book, he hints at why purest Reformed theology gets lost in the minds of Christians from time to time and therefore needs periodic resurgences and rediscoveries. He notes in his book that good grammar makes bad theology. The mystic heretic Paul David Tripp makes the same assertion in “How People Change,” noting that a literal interpretation of Scripture circumvents the personhood of Christ and His saving work. What’s in an interpretation method? According to Tripp—your salvation.

This is the paramount point at hand: the Reformers did not interpret the Bible grammatically, objectively, exegetically, or literally at any point; they interpreted the Bible through the dual prism of  “reality” seen in God’s holiness and our evil. The only objective truth is the person of Christ leading to a mere subjective experience of His power and  grace manifestations. Hence, many Reformed purists in our day embodied in the New Calvinist movement speak of, “spiritual growth in seeing our own evil as set against the holiness of God.” Therefore, commands in the Bible become part of the narrative that helps us see what we are unable to do rather than commands to be obeyed. We merely seek to see, and wait for the subjective experience of “vivification.” The seeing is the “mortification.” Reformed theologians like Michael Horton explain this as a continual re-experience of our original baptism as we perpetually revisit the same gospel that saved us “afresh.”

This reduces the Christian life to experiences of perpetual rebirth found in Eastern concepts Plato borrowed for “practical life application.”  This is the foundation of Historical Redemptive hermeneutics born of Reformed purism.  This is also the interpretive method that is all of the rage in our day through programs like BibleMesh.

This is not the natural bent towards interpreting truth. We are wired to interpret truth objectively, and grammatically—tools like allegory and parables notwithstanding. This is why Reformed purism dies a social death from time to time throughout history. Thus, this metaphysical anomaly experiences “rediscovery” and “resurgence” movements. Be certain of the following: this is the New Calvinist movement in our day, and in essence, a return to the exact same viral Gnosticism that plagued the New Testament church with this caveat added: we by no means possess the doctrinal intestinal fortitude of the first century church.

Ground Zero: The 1970 Resurgence

1970 is ground zero for the present landscape of American Christianity.  In that year, two movements emerged. Since colonial times, the third resurgence of Reformed purism was born through a project called the Australian Forum. In that same year, Dr. Jay E. Adams, a hybrid of Calvinism and Historical Grammatical interpretation, launched the biblical counseling movement. His movement was predicated on the competence of enabled congregants to counsel each other through the deepest of human problems. Adams also recognized the simple concept of anthropology and its relationship to helping people. Because all humans are created by God, what works well for the unsaved should work even better for the saved. If unsaved people who don’t violate their consciences are happier, this should also aid Christians in their walk with God. Bad ideas are simply bad for everyone, the ultimate need for eternal salvation notwithstanding. But that doesn’t mean you throw out the unsaved baby with the bath water of practicality. And in addition, does practicality show forth the wisdom of God and thereby point people to God? Should God not know what makes people tick? Moreover, what is the authority for interpreting human existence? Philosophy,  or the Bible?

Adams’ biblical construct produced astounding conclusions, especially in areas where a medical model covered for escape mechanisms that create another reality for realties one may not like. If Bob is in big trouble, he merely becomes Ted, or maybe even Jane. This is a bad idea for Christians. Adams created a dichotomy between salvation and the Christian life. He believed in the utter incompetence of man to save himself, but abundant competence in colaboring with God for a victorious life over sin. With Adams, it is about CHANGE for the glory of God and the happiness of His people.

Thus, with the resurgence of Reformed purism at the same time, the battle lines were drawn, and a confusion of conflict emerged in the biblical counseling movement. The one predicated on the utter incompetence of man whether saved or unsaved, and the other predicated on the competence of the Spirit-filled Christian. The one predicated on Christians only being righteous positionally, and the other predicated on the idea that Christians are also practically righteous. The one predicated on contemplationism, the other predicated on obedience. This is the civil war that has raged in the biblical counseling movement from its conception until this day. It is for the most part a civil war of servility, lest two different gospels be separate, and careerism maimed.

The Forum doctrine quickly found footing at Westminster Seminary in Pennsylvania where Adams was a professor. The initial vestige of relevant infection was found in Dr. John “Jack” Miller, also a professor at Westminster Seminary. True, Westminster was founded by Reformed purists that believed the many acts of Christ’s righteousness were part of the atonement, not just His one act of death on the cross, but for the most part, the Reformation’s metaphysical anomalies had reduced Westminster to moderate Reformed ideology. If you will, a hybrid Calvinism that interpreted reality grammatically.

Miller changed that. While the doctrine was in the process of suffering a brutal death in Reformed Baptist circles by moderate Calvinists, being labeled as antinomianism, it found resurgent life at Westminster in Miller’s Sonship Theology incubator. The forerunner of this doctrine in Reformed Baptist circles, Jon Zens, discovered the doctrine  in the early years of the Forum while he was a student at Westminster. He actually became heavily involved with the Forum in the 70’s, convincing them that everyday Covenant Theology would be a hindrance to infecting Christianity with the newly rediscovered disease. From that conversation came the birth of New Covenant Theology circa 1981. It was a significant addition to the present repertoire of elements that confuse the real crux of the issue. Till this day, few moderate Calvinists make this historical connection between New Covenant Theology and New Calvinism.

But it was a particular mentoree of Miller’s that saw Adam’s construct as a threat to the successful spread of the Forum’s rediscovery: Dr. David Powlison. Powlison, working closely with Miller, developed the Dynamics of Biblical Change which is a counseling construct based on Reformation purism. This became the counseling model for Westminster’s biblical counseling wing known as The Christian Counseling & Education Foundation (CCEF). Later, there was a proposal for an organization that would certify counselors for CCEF. Adams was opposed to it as it smacked of the kind of elitism that he was trying to avoid. Remember, Adams was all about the competence of the average congregant to counsel. But Purist Reformed ideology is all about elitism because Gnosticism is all about elitism; the two go hand in glove.

Show Me the Money

Gnosticism rejects the average man’s ability to understand reality. So, assimilation for purposes of functionality is the main concern; ie., that the masses are controlled by indoctrination that is not necessarily understood, but invokes behavioral goals. But another primary goal is the spiritual caste system that provides millions of dollars for elitist educators. In essence, these are the professional Sophists produced by Platonism. This is why Gnosticism always dwells in the upper socioeconomic strata, as Phillip J. Lee notes in the aforementioned book, Gnosticism is a rich man’s game. CCEF certified counselors are extremely rare in zip codes of average incomes less than $80,000 per year, and nowhere to be found in zip codes of $50,000 or less. This of course, is very telling. Their conferences require registration fees of  $300.00 per person or more.

Meanwhile, NANC Happens

Powlison followed a classic mode of Gnostic deception by seeking to be identified with the persona of Adams’ successful counseling construct while despising the doctrine as a supposed false gospel. To be more specific, he wanted to gain ground by being identified with Adams’ success, and with a deliberate long-term goal of destroying the historical grammatical approach to biblical counseling.

Unfortunately, and to the chagrin of Adams, the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors was born (NANC). “Nouthetic” counseling was a Greek term introduced by Adams and often associated with him. Therefore, Powlison et al were able to be identified with the tsunami like personal transformations of the Adams reformation as a jump start for their own construct, and with a long-term goal of destroying the competition. They did this so effectively that Adams was often thought of as the founder of NANC, which was never true.

Consequently, Adams experienced an increased persecution from within the contemporary biblical counseling movement that he founded. His counseling was dubbed “first generation” biblical counseling and referred to as nothing more than “producing better Pharisees.” I believe this will go down in church history as one of the most grotesque betrayals ever perpetrated on a man in the name of friendship and the gospel.

The fallout in our day is indicative of the spiritual carnage that has always been left in the path of Gnosticism. While the spiritual peasantry cries out in hopes that the elite will police their own, the Nicolaitans of our day laugh all the way to the bank. After all, subjective reality is messy business and peasants just don’t understand. The biblical counseling community has founded organizations who seek to keep them out of court and prevent the obscuring of cash flow. The New Calvinism movement is intrinsically connected by a complicated and massive network of  associations—in many cases disagreeing with each other on “secondary issues.” A prime example is the G.R.A.C.E mediatory organization headed by Boz Tchividjian.  While playing the part of advocates for the spiritually abused, they are professionally networked with serial abusers of the worst sort.

Conclusion

The biblical counseling movement embodied in New Calvinism is nothing more or less than a return to the exact same Gnosticism that plagued the first century church. The fact that Eastern mysticism is often the application can be seen by what happened at a Passion Conference where the who’s who of New Calvinism led the audience in a form of Transcendental Meditation. Tim Keller, a co-mentoree of Miller along with David Powlison in the early days, is a staunch advocate of Eastern mysticism as a practical application for Christian living.

CCEF, and NANC are the epitome of false advertising. They advertise the gospel and change, but believe in neither. Like the father of their faith, St. Augustine,  it is Plato they trust. The banner over them is not love, but a sense of elitist entitlement to be paid and supported by the unenlightened masses for their own good. Sheep that don’t get it are more than expendable; the one in 99 is expendable for the 99 who know their place and pay the Shamans their tax deductible dues.

They invent and sell orthodoxy, the layman’s manual for experiencing perpetual rebirth. On the one hand, there is a Christianity that posits the living water that is received once, the onetime washing, and the moving on to maturity from the beginning principles of baptisms, and then there is the gospel of our day that posits the perpetual rebirth of Eastern mysticism.

But this is not a mere disagreement about how to live the Christian life. How we see the Christian life reveals the gospel that we really believe. When our salvation is not a finished work, something must be done by us to finish it—even if that means doing nothing with intentionality. NOT living by a list of do’s and don’ts is the work that keeps us saved. It is playing it safe by hiding our talents in the ground and giving the Lord back what He originally gave.

Christians would do well to choose which gospel they will live by in our day.  At this point, that conversation has not arrived yet. And to be sure, many do not want the conversation to be clarified to that point. The gospel itself has become the elephant in the room.

paul

Now Available: Booklet on Biblical Counseling Movement

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on December 30, 2014

Is New Calvinism Old Calvinism?

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on September 19, 2014
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