Paul's Passing Thoughts

Gospel Sanctification and Sonship’s Gospel-Driven Genealogy: Part 1, The Australian Forum and Seventh-Day Adventist Connection

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on May 16, 2011

It’s always been a bit perplexing to me. When you survey the Gospel-Driven, Gospel Sanctification landscape of our day that includes the T4G, Gospel Coalition, and a massive network of churches, the author of choice for their interpretive prism seems to be Graeme Goldsworthy (hereafter “GG”), an obscure, Anglican theologian from Australia.

As I said, “perplexing.” Until yesterday. While researching, I stumbled across an article written by a Christopher Taylor entitled, “Who is Bill Blogsmith?” Taylor (who I am attempting to contact for an interview) wrote the following:

“In the 1970’s a pair of Australian professors and pastors in the Anglican Church toured the world as the Australian Forum. This touring group went everywhere they were invited and preached the Word as best they could, with a focus on the Gospel as central, supreme, and foremost in the Christian’s life and understanding. As weeks go by I’ll be repeating and expanding on themes of this group, but you can read their thoughts in Present Truth Magazine which is online for free.

Robert Brinsmead became apostate and is sadly teaching rank heresy and frankly non-Christian beliefs. Geoffrey Paxton, the better speaker of the two, has dropped out of sight and I have lost track of him. But when they were the Australian Forum, they spoke God’s honest truth with power, conviction, and a powerful drive. Their humble efforts have shaped the thoughts and ideas of a new generation of theologians such as Rod Rosenbladt and Michael Horton.”

First, does, “….with a focus on the Gospel as central, supreme, and foremost in the Christian’s life and understanding” sound familiar? Secondly, though these guys are from Australia and were preaching in the nineteen-seventies, Robert Brinsmead is often quoted by the super-hip, who’s who of the Gospel Sanctification movement (hereafter “GS” and also known as New Calvinism—has deep roots in Sonship Theology). That’s a very interesting connection: from Australia in the seventies, preaching a gospel-centered sanctification—to playing a part in the latest rendition. Third, the author claims that this forum “shaped the thoughts and ideas” of a major player in the GS movement: Michael Horton. Fourthly, Isn’t GG from Australia? And isn’t he also an Anglican? Hmmmm.

Now GG isn’t looking so obscure, but the plot thickens. Wikipedia has this to say about the Paxton / Brinsmead relationship:

“Paxton has had significant interaction with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and a ‘keen interest’ in its theology.This began through his acquaintance with Robert Brinsmead, as both were critical of the charismatic movement.One source described the pair as “anti-Charismatic crusaders” after one meeting.They held public meetings supporting belief in justification by faith alone. Paxton contributed to Brinsmead’s Present Truth Magazine.”

Not only did Brinsmead and Paxton share a distaste for Charismatic theology, but they worked together, along with GG, in an endeavor to reform the Seventh-Day Adventist denomination (hereafter SDA) by primarily arguing the following along with other SDA theologians (like Desmond Ford): the SDA theologians of old held to the Reformed view of sanctification, and the SDA needed to return to their reformation roots. Hence, Brinsmead, Paxton, and GG were hyper-enamored by Reformed confessions and creeds. At times, to some, it seemed like the threesome gave those documents more credence than Scripture. Sound familiar? I have no idea what compelled these three to enter the SDA fray—perhaps my continued research will offer a theory on that. But the primary purpose of Present Truth magazine was to aid the threesome in the aforementioned endeavor. Another writer stated it this way in the comment section of a forum:

“Most, if not all, the magazine articles available on that site in pdf  form date from the 1970s and 1980s and appeared in the printed editions that were available free of charge to anyone who asked, thanks to the generous financial support of Robert Brinsmead, who was a successful Californian avocado grower and was seeking to reform Adventism. Brinsmead himself wrote many of the articles, but many others were written by Rev. Geoffrey Paxton, a ‘conservative’ Anglican priest who taught at Queensland Bible Institute in Australia. Listed as a Consulting Editor was another ‘conservative’ Anglican priest, Rev. Dr. Graeme Goldsworthy, who also taught at QBI and later taught at Moore
Theological College in Sydney (the official theological institution of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney); I do not recall whether Goldsworthy wrote for the magazine or was merely a consultant. (Paxton wrote The Shaking of Adventism, and Goldsworthy is the author of several books.) I do not recall any pro-Adventist views being promoted in the magazines.

Their purpose was to promote what they saw as the truly Protestant view of salvation, which had been corrupted not merely by Adventists but by many other “Protestants” – even so-called ‘evangelical’ ones.”

GG, in fact, did write many of the articles. Furthermore, the very close kinship of beliefs between GG, Paxton, and Brinsmead can be seen by the fact that they reference each other in Present Truth articles. In particular, GG referenced (for agreement purposes) an article written by Paxton in which he wrote that Christians are NOT “born again.” Sound familiar? By the way, Paxton was dismissed from a teaching position for, as Desmond Ford puts it, “his refusal to lay aside his interest in the Adventist ‘cult’” (“The Truth of Paxton’s Thesis” by Desmond Ford. Spectrum 9:3 July 1978).

Now, in regard to the articles in Present Truth and their agreement with Gospel Sanctification—I would like to say that there are no words to describe the uncanny dittolarities, so I will use examples: it would be like distinguishing between two twin penguins; it would be like distinguishing between two capital Ts; It would be like distinguishing between John Piper’s opinions and Justin Taylor’s opinions. It’s the same stuff, and in mass volumes.

Moreover, I was surprised to see that Jon Zens, a primary figure in the development of New Covenant Theology (a GS tenet), also wrote at least one article for Present Truth as well.

A lot more research needs to done which will be reflected in part 2 and other articles following, but it would appear that the Australian Forum preceded Jack Miller’s Sonship Theology. The Australian Forum may, or may not be, the cradle of GS theology. So far, we see a road; some parts wide and well paved, and other parts narrow, from  the Forum Trio in Australia, to Michael Horton and others at Westminster (probably one being Edmund Clowney). Then to others at Westminster as well; namely, Jack Miller, and Tim Keller. From them, to David Powlison, Paul Tripp, and Timothy Lane. How Sonship then became Gospel Sanctification is sketchy, but should be easy to figure out in time. Let me further bolster this a little bit by quoting a pastor who graduated from Westminster with a MDiv:

Sonship, as far as I understand it, arose from the ecclesiology of Edmund Clowney at Westminster Theological seminary, came to maturity in pastoral theology in the life and preaching of C. John Miller, rejuvenated Christian counseling at CCEF, entered the world of oversees missions through World Harvest Ministries, and finally made its home in both the city (through Tim Keller’s preaching at Redeemer in NYC) and in the country (through the personal testimony of change in Ray Cortese’s life and teaching as senior pastor at Seven Rivers in Lecanto, FL).

If you want a taste of Sonship theology you can find it in Gospel Transformation put out by World Harvest Ministries; Ministries of Mercy by Tim Keller; or A Faith Worth Sharing by C. John Miller.”

In the forthcoming parts, I will compare the Australian Forum’s theology with GS/ Sonship. Is it the cradle of GS, or just another stop along the way? Did this trio create a doctrine designed to refute Charismaticism and Adventism without properly regarding the truth? What does the rest of the family tree look like? Lord willing, we will find out.