June 30, 2009
Gospel Coalition or Expedition?
How effective will The Gospel Coalition be in post-Christendom?
The Gospel Coalition (TGC) has been galvanizing many younger evangelicals to re-think their theology and practice. I applaud this new theological energy. But I wonder (given its moniker) whether TGC will be a force for coalition or expedition.
"Coalition" describes the coalescing of a group of people or nations in order to defend some boundary or prepare for war (think Pres. Bush's "coalition of the willing"). "Expedition," on the other hand, is the organizing of a group to prepare for an adventure into unknown territory. Will TGC be a coalition for hardening doctrinal lines to defend boundaries and/or launch an attack against those who don't agree with its take on Reformed theology? Or will TGC be a force for preparing missionaries (in doctrine and practice) to engage the unknown territories of post Christendom?
Let me be explicit that I value and have learned much from each of the TGC writers/thinkers/preachers, and that I do not disavow the Reformation. Nevertheless, I am concerned that TGC's approach is ill-suited to engage the cultural challenges of post-Christendom.
Here are five statements that encapsulate what I think TGC is implying in their work so far. If true, each of these positions will inhibit, if not prohibit, TGC from being a cause for Christ in the engagement of the new post Christendom cultures of the West.
If we purify our doctrine, the rest will follow.
I have observed an impulse in the TGC that says if we just get our doctrine right (which means a certain version of Reformed orthodoxy), then mission and church renewal will follow. But this is not 16th-century Europe, where the majority Catholic population, under the influence of a corrupt Roman Catholicism, needs doctrinal renewal. This is not the 1920's North America, where the majority mainline Protestant population, under the influence of modernist liberalism, needs doctrinal renewal. In post-Christendom territory there are very few Christians of any kind left who have any doctrine to be renewed.
We must return to the Reformation.
The Reformation gave birth to the solas, especially sola scriptura (Scripture alone) and sola fide (faith alone), which in their time called people to renewed purity and personal commitment to the gospel. Today, however, those same impulses, aligned with the Enlightenment, have given birth to a modernist individualism, Christian relativism, Cartesian rationalism, and experientialism that have become modernity, protestant liberalism, and the current manifestations of evangelicalism that TGC appears to be critical of. We must be sober about the doctrinal problems of the Reformation that elevate the individual and isolate Scripture (as an authority and conceptual document) away from the church and a way of life.
Women cannot be pastors.
I characterize the view of women in ministry in the TGC as 1) based in an inerrancy view of the text, which 2) latches on to texts as if they were isolated units of universal teaching on women, which then 3) leaves them blind to the New Testament's overall elevation of women into ministerial authority in the church. To me, this robs the church of the new politics that was birthed in Jesus Christ. I have spoken against the egalitarian form of politics I believe has been adopted naively by some evangelical feminists at the expense of both women and Christian marriage. But I believe that the New Testament calls women into full participation in the new authority of the Kingdom unleashed in the church (this means I affirm the full ordination of women). I believe TGC will be impotent to engage the culture of post Christendom if it cannot give witness to the new "politics of Jesus" in its gender politics.
The new perspective is our enemy.
John Piper and Don Carson have energetically sought to dismantle the "new perspective" on Paul. I believe it is a mistake to see the new perspective as the enemy. The Reformation tendency has been to separate the justification of the individual in Christ from the justice of God and the new social order God inaugurated in the world through Christ. As long as we keep doing this, we will forever be hindered from socially embodying the gospel in post-Christendom. Maybe worse, emerging Christians will continue to make the error of separating social justice from the redemption of the individual in Christ.
The megachurch still makes sense.
Because of their tendencies to individualize the gospel, the reading of Scripture, and salvation and to separate doctrine from "way of life," TGC does not see the problem of the megachurch for the future. Megachurches worked well within Christendom's modernity. Now, however, the gospel must take root in a social communal embodiment, where the gospel can be seen, heard, understood, and experienced by those completely foreign to our faith in Christ. This kind of communal embodiment is nigh impossible in mega sized organizations (although I've seen it at least once). The TGC is convinced that good solid preaching and culturally relative apologetics will gather post-Christendom into its churches. I fear TGC then becomes a force for coalescing mega-size churches that preach to the already initiated.
For both historical and theological reasons, I believe the neo-Anabaptist missional impulse has much to offer the dwindling churches of North America in their efforts to engage the new post-Christendom cultures of the West, and that TGC and neo-Anabaptists should be in dialogue together. So I am open to dialoguing and even being proven wrong about my interpretation of the five positional statements above. Where am I right? Where am I wrong?