26 January 2011

Discussions, Controversies, and Divisions- Where's the Line?

In the blog bailiwick where I hang (see the list on the side column), there isn't a lot of controversy.  I tend to read a more monolithic set of blogs.  When I want an opinion contrary, I know where to go find it (like Roger Olsen's blog...if he says the sky is blue, then I assume it must be something else...he's the author of How to be evangelical without being conservative, for example).  I seek those out as the need arises, but the need does not often arise.  Having grown up a semi-Pelagian, I am familiar with the other side of the Calvinist-Arminian debate.

Frank Turk has a blog he shares with a couple other fellows called Pyromaniacs.  It is usually a fun read, and there isn't much there I disagree with, though there's often stuff I don't fully understand.  Today, Frank published An Open Letter to Michael Horton

That got my attention.  I like Mike.  He co-hosts a radio program called The White Horse Inn, which I would listen to more often if I had time, but catch when I can.  Horton has written several outstanding books, including Christless Christianity and it's sequel, The Gospel-Driven Life.  I recommend both (though they can get heavy in places).  He just came out with a new systematic theology that I blogged about earlier today. He edits a magazine called Modern Reformation, to which I also subscribe.  I like Mike (did I mention that?).

So when I started in to Turk's letter, I was a bit ambivalent.  Nothing improved much after reading the very interesting post (found here).  It pointed out how much Turk appreciated and looked up to Horton, as do I. No disagreement there. But it also pointed out a possible problem with the results of the way Horton portrays the gospel.  Turk didn't say Horton said anything wrong at all...on the contrary, he completely agrees with Horton on the gospel.  The problem, Turk said, was how some people might react to what could be a bit of imbalance in the results of the presentation of the gospel in a indicative/imperative dichotomy.  (If you've read my blog in the past, you know I've presented the same dichotomy at times, leaning heavily on Tullian Tchividjian in the process.)

I noticed a lot of comments were already posted, and the article wasn't but a couple hours old.  Unusual.  In fact, there were over 200 comments in less than four hours.  Very unusual. While some of what Turk said made sense to me, I was still skeptical of Turk's thesis, so I started skimming the comments.  I quickly ran across a guy named Charlie (read the post and the comments, down to Charlie's, for the full effect).  Charlie was living, breathing, walking, talking empirical evidence that the problem Turk was fearing was a real problem...in living color.

A few months ago, I read a blog post (or maybe an interview, I don't recall for sure) by John Piper on what he saw as some threats to the integrity of the relatively new reformed resurgence, or as it is sometimes called, the YRR (young, restless, and reformed) movement.  Piper listed a few, but he missed one that I think is a real threat, and that is exemplified by Charlie in the Pyromaniacs comments section.  It's hard to summarize the problem, but it basically involves those of a certain reformed perspective denying that anyone outside their perspective can call themselves 'reformed' in any meaningful way.  Charlie uses name-calling to make his point:  he's a Baptist-hater.  He calls Baptists anabaptists, Arminians, Pelagians, and adherents to Roman Catholicism.  Wow.  He makes so many errors of basic logic, it is hard to even start on a criticism.  But that's not the main point.  I digress.  Back to the main point: divisiveness.

That won't work, folks.  Having heard Charlie, I now see Frank Turk's point, and he's right.  We need to balance the presentation of the gospel with the implications of the gospel, just as scripture does.  No, we don't need to call the gospel 'law' or call law 'gospel', and we certainly don't need to confuse justification with sanctification, but we need to be cognizant of what it means when the gospel is proclaimed and people believe.  We can't divorce the message of the gospel from what it means to us.  Good news is only good news if it is good news to the hearer.  The fact that someone won the Powerball Lottery on Saturday was good news to them, but it didn't mean much to me.  So that means that news was a subjective kind of good news.  The gospel is not subjective, it is objective, in the sense that it is universal good news to 'all He came to save'.  It is not simply an academic concept, as real, objective, and historical factual as it is.  The content of the gospel is express in words (not how we live), but words mean things (to quote Rush Limbaugh).  And the gospel means something very real to all of us.

Turk approaches the issue with fairness and brotherly love, and I have to think Horton will answer in the same way.  (Hopefully the right way to dialogue about disagreements will truly embarrass Charlie and he can see how disruptive his tact can be.  The 'line' in the title of this post?...Charlie crossed it, in my opinion.) I don't say this pointing a finger only at Charlie, however. I can see myself falling into the same trap, if not careful.  I usually lack balance because I'm such a black-and-white person, and I need constant biblical correction from my peers (thank God for my wife and my fellow SS classmates) to not get unbalanced.  If Iva Bates was a knee (a reference that those of you who worked through Experiencing God will get), I'm a foot.  As in, 'I'll-plant-my-size-12-Nike-in-your-hiney' kind of foot. I hope I never grow to old to listen to correction and rebuke from other Godly people.  If I dish it out, I gotta take it!

I also look forward to Mike Horton's reply, as I think it will build up the kingdom (knowing Horton) and God will be honored (knowing Turk).

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