Biting The Hand That Starves

In the recent Nicotine Theological Journal, some of Carl Trueman’s recent comments at Reformation21 are examined. The words I have found curious, keep coming back to and cannot get out of my head is are these:

“It wasn’t the confessional Presbyterians who told me the gospel; it wasn’t the confessional Lutherans who took the time to teach me the basics of the faith; it was the evangelicals. They cared enough to reach out to me and engage me.”

Well, same for me, Dr. Trueman. But I can’t say that I have quite the same conclusion as to what that might imply, specifically that “I owe everything, almost all my theology, and much of my Christian nurture to such people.” That is quite a thing to say.

Maybe his welcome wagon to the Big Tent included a hatchback full of free Willow Creek tapes and complimentary copy of Mere Christianity from a self-described and charming “Jesus-freak” employing “friendship evangelism.” Maybe he, too, had an attractive evangelical of the fairer sex lovingly invite him to a Bible study led by her intensely likable father who ended up joining him in holy matrimony to her. Such things seem only natural to induce such a swooney sense of allegiance. But I have always been more Augustinian-Calvinist than Troubadour, even when I didn’t know it.

While I share with Trueman the experience of evangelicals having “…cared enough to reach out and engage me,” what is curiously absent his sentiment is what exactly it was that retained him. Since he has landed as a Presbyterian, I feel safe in assuming that it probably wasn’t, in Trueman’s words, a movement that “…requires the marginalizing of ecclesiastical distinctives.” I wonder what exactly happened between the Sinner’s Prayer and the affirmation of Dordt for Trueman that he yet feels so beholden. It must be that his trek from the sawdust trail to Geneva was a whole lot less embattled and fraught than mine. I don’t know how that could be. Maybe it just takes a keener skill set.

True enough, I may still smart over the Jesus-freak who notched me up on his spiritual bedpost and evaporated. Even so, I am not sure what I owe to evangelicals, if anything. It isn’t so clear to me what I really owe those who may have gotten me in the door but left me to languish from the very beginning. My mother did teach me to offer thanks even for that which was less than fitting. But am I really supposed to be grateful to those who initiated a steady decline from the start, only to be burned-over by the time I stood at the trail-heads of Rome? Or would it be more appropriate to be thankful to those who were more concerned with keeping me than getting me?

By my lights, it seems one thing to be civil and gracious toward someone, quite another to be so manifestly obligatory. And I am not so sure that withholding warm plaudits is the same as “bashing evangelicals,” as Trueman puts it. After all, as one who places a high premium on maintaining happy familial relations with an extended family made up of evangelicals, I really have no vested interest in bashing. But neither do I feel indebted in a Truemanian sense.

No, as I see it, my undying loyalties really should rest with the confessional Reformed Protestants. If it is all the same to the good doctor, I think that such affinities and seminal allegiance actually should be ascribed to those who provided more gospel than gospel-ese. It may have been the evangelicals who reached out and engaged me, but it was the confessionalists who taught me the basics of the faith and told me the true gospel. Indeed, like someone once said, I owe everything, all my theology, and much of my Christian nurture to such people.

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23 Responses to Biting The Hand That Starves

  1. Pingback: Biting the Hand That Starves You « Heidelblog

  2. Whiskeyjack says:

    Zrim,

    No, as I see it, my undying loyalties really should rest with the confessional Reformed Protestants. If it is all the same to the good Doctor, I think that such affinities and seminal allegiance actually should be ascribed to those who provided more gospel than gospel-ese. It may have been the Evangelicals who reached out and engaged me, but it was the confessionalists who taught me the basics of the faith and told me the true gospel. Indeed, like someone once said, I owe everything, all my theology, and much of my Christian nurture to such people.

    You have my amen in that regard. If anything, the evangelical should be beholden to the reformed protestant, because it is his tradition which provided the freedom for the evangelical to downgrade doctrine without the threat of inquisition. Evangelicals find shelter in the house of the Reformation while whining all the while, swimming in a sea of ahistorical notions of biblicism. I left them, but one revisiting to those I left behind and I remember why I owe them nothing.

  3. Bruce S. says:

    The positive success I’ve had as a street evangelist functioning first as a charismatic and later a presbyterian are about the same, so far as I know. I gather Dr. Trueman is having better luck. Good for him. Some people just have the knack.

  4. Zrim says:

    Jack,

    Yes, who owes whom what and why seems a deft and shrewd game. It really isn’t for the weak of heart.

    Bruce,

    Yes, as I say “it’s all in the wrist.” Raquetball and tennis look the same, but they really are two different skills. I was never any good at cross-over sports. Speaking of two great tastes that don’t go so great together (Presbyterianism and evangelist-ism).

  5. Echo_ohcE says:

    You know, some people preach the gospel out of selfish ambition. About such people, Paul said, “Hey, great, at least the gospel is being preached.” But about those who preach another gospel, he says, “Let them be condemned.”

    Seems like we might need to define just what this gospel is.

    Because it seems if the Evangelicals are preaching the gospel, then by God, we ought to rejoice, even if the pastor’s just preaching that message to get a new Cadillac.

    Let’s simply take justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to be our definition of the gospel. We’ll keep it simple.

    So are Evangelicals preaching the gospel?

    Nope. Most of them are Arminian. Is the Arminian gospel the same as what I’ve defined above? Nope, you’ve got to add just a little tiny work of your own to the work of Christ. The Arminian gospel turns faith itself into a work. Close but no cigar, Arminians! Sorry! Their gospel is inherently a gospel of not faith alone, but faith and works, even turning faith itself into a work.

    So how again are Evangelicals reaching people with the gospel?

    I’ve been talking about the churches where they’re at least trying to preach the gospel. I haven’t even begun to talk about the churches where they’re not even doing that anymore.

    But once you conclude that the Arminian gospel is not THE gospel, then you’re left with just a tiny sliver of Christianity, and certainly all of Evangelicalism doesn’t fall into that tiny sliver, but most of it falls outside of it.

    But a huge majority of churches today aren’t even trying to make faith have anything to do with it anymore. Many of them follow the way of Rick Warren, and their mantra is his mantra: “Deeds, not creeds.” They’ve thrown faith out altogether, and have become full on Pelagian.

    Where is the gospel outside of Reformed churches?

    If any of us were drawn to God in some non-Reformed church, then we can credit the fact that once in a while they’d open up their Bible and read from it. That’s what drew us toward God, if anything did.

    Evangelicalism not only didn’t teach me the gospel growing up, it doesn’t teach anyone THE gospel.

    Looks like they’re in that second category, condemned. The only thing we owe them is our prayers, that perhaps they would repent before they die and face the Judgment throne, where unless they repent Jesus will make plain what should already be plain to all of us: “I never knew you.”

    E

  6. Echo_ohcE says:

    PS Zrim: PERFECT title for this post.

  7. Zrim says:

    Thanks for the comment, Echo.

    However, it might be that you are coming dangerously close to the sort of “bashing” Trueman perceives that serves more to obscure than clarify things, if I may speak so boldly.

    As you know, Paul rightly got up into Peter’s face, but I don’t recall the former painting pictures of the latter’s eternal condemnation, etc.

  8. Chris says:

    In defense of Echo’s post,

    (I did notice the “cigar” statement in his post)

    From Spurgeon;

    “This may seem to you to be of little consequence, but it really is a matter of life and death. I would plead with every Christian–think it over, my dear brother. When some of us preach Calvinism, and some Arminianism, we cannot both be right; it is of not use trying to think we can be–‘Yes,’ and ‘no,’ cannot both be true….Truth does not vacillate like the pendulum which shakes backwards and forwards….One must be right; the other wrong.”

    and

    “The doctrine of justification itself, as preached by an Armenian, is nothing but the doctrine of salvation by works…”

    and

    “There is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation”

  9. Zrim says:

    Chris,

    I have no problem with the essence of Echo’s words. But there does seem an essential difference between how Spurgeon puts it and Echo.

    I presume Trueman to not be swatting at shadows; there has to be a reality of “bashing” that does indeed occur. The next question seems to be, “What does that look or sound like?”

  10. Chris says:

    Here’s some bashing from Spurgeon, (Perhaps even a bit further than is comfortable for me)

    “Further, “I do not serve the god of the Arminians at all; I have nothing to do with him, and I do not bow down before the Baal they have set up; he is not my God, nor shall he ever be; I fear him not, nor tremble at his presence…The God that saith today and denieth tomorrow, that justifieth today and condemns the next…is no relation to my God in the least degree. He may be a relation of Ashtaroth or Baal, but Jehovah never was or can be his name.”

  11. Zrim says:

    Chris,

    I have no problem with strong words, as should be quite evident as you read the Outhouse walls up to and including this post. I concede that the lines can get fuzzy between strong words and all-out bashing.

    I don’t read Spurgeon to be bashing here.

  12. Chris says:

    Perhaps you could define bashing for me.

  13. Zrim says:

    I realize it may frustrate, but I doubt it. It is beginning to feel like describing a color without being able to use its name. I know it when I see it.

    I think a good start is Echo’s last paragraph, though.

  14. Chris says:

    Zrim,

    After re-reading your original post, I see the clear difference between the majority of evangelicalism and that of Reformed Protestantism as the difference between making converts and making disciples. Last I checked, the commission was for the latter.

    I would define bashing as any attack, even just using strong words, on held beliefs.

    As such, bashing or not, do you suppose we owe it to anyone, “evangelical” or not to at least tell them the true Gospel? Someone told us, didn’t they?

    Somehow, I think we need to bash Finney on this.

  15. Zrim says:

    “After re-reading your original post, I see the clear difference between the majority of evangelicalism and that of Reformed Protestantism as the difference between making converts and making disciples. Last I checked, the commission was for the latter.”

    Quite agreed.

    “I would define bashing as any attack, even just using strong words, on held beliefs.”

    Well, as I have said before when the word “cult” comes up in discussions about Mormonism versus Christian orthodoxy, I would actually expect those of us who make such a collosal fuss over the word “alone” and other such doctrines to be able to make sharper linguistic distinctions between words and phrases, etc. Just as Mormons are not “cultists” in the common usage of that phrase-of-derision, bashing is simply not the same as attacking. Were I queasy about bashing, I am not sure how I could have written the post-proper but would have, in point of fact, been sympathetic to Trueman. But as your second reading may have shown you, I am not at all sympathetic to him.

    “As such, bashing or not, do you suppose we owe it to anyone, “evangelical” or not to at least tell them the true Gospel? Someone told us, didn’t they?”

    Yes, the Reformed Protestants told me. Don’t mis-read me. I hold that “Roman Catholics as much as Evangelicals stand in need of evangelization.” But that seems different from, “Looks like they’re in that second category, condemned. The only thing we owe them is our prayers, that perhaps they would repent before they die and face the Judgment throne, where unless they repent Jesus will make plain what should already be plain to all of us: ‘I never knew you.'”

    I think Echo could be helped here by a better understanding of the in/visible church. In the next aeon, expect to see plenty of those who were outside the true, visible church in this aeon and be rather surprised not to see those who were.

  16. Bruce S. says:

    I hold that “Roman Catholics as much as Evangelicals stand in need of evangelization.” But that seems different from, “Looks like they’re in that second category, condemned.

    Different in essence or merely different in word choice? If the former, then explain the difference, please. If the latter, then what’s the fuss? i.e “in need of evangelization” equals “condemned”. No?

  17. Zrim says:

    Bruce,

    Short answer: different in essence.

    The difference seems to be in upturning inward stones, wheat and chaff, etc. I don’t know the final status of anyone’s soul. I do know that if they are not adhering to the true gospel as apprehended by the visible church they are putting that status at great risk, a stated reality which should compel the heart of flesh. Same for those facing discipline from the true church. Just as discipline is not meant to “clean house” but to compel the elect to true adherence, it seems to me that saying certain ones who claim to be truly Christian (i.e. a confession of ecumenical creeds) yet don’t adhere to right doctrine and true, visible church aren’t so much “condemned” as they “stand in need of evangelization.”

    If Horton is right that “we are saved by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone…not by our doctrine,” and I think he is, then it seems to me we have to make these sorts of essential dictinctions. The spirit of his words seems to suggest that we need to do better wrestling with something like the doctrines of the in/visible church.

    This might be a start.

    And this.

    And here.

    As I have said before, I was never so schismatic (and “bashing”) as when I didn’t have these understandings, never so ecumenical and catholic as when I did, when I embraced the intolerance of Presbyterianism. Counter-intuitive, yes. But so is the gospel.

  18. Echo_ohcE says:

    Zrim,

    Gal. 2:11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.

    This is not to say “guaranteed reprobate”, but as I said, unless they repent, they’re preaching another gospel and stand condemned.

    I’m speaking more of ministers who preach Arminianism, not the poor deceived souls who sit in the pews.

    These ministers teach people to hope in Christ AND THEMSELVES. The gospel insists on Christ ALONE.

    Anything less is simply NOT the gospel. Trueman seems to be making the unfortunate mistake of equating the confused gospel of Arminianism with THE gospel.

    I stand by what I said.

    E

  19. Rick says:

    Arriving late but, good post and discussion

  20. Zrim says:

    “The only thing we owe them is our prayers, that perhaps they would repent before they die and face the Judgment throne, where unless they repent Jesus will make plain what should already be plain to all of us: ‘I never knew you.'”

    Sounds really close to “guaranteed reprobate.”

    Nevertheless, I appreciate this can get dicey. After all, Jesus also called poor Peter “Satan.”

    So for my part, I’d really rather not try my weak hand at Pauline pronouncements. I’d rather draw the lines at confessional Reformed orthodoxy in an attempt to maintain at once an unflinching orthodoxy and catholic charity, miserable as that effort may be.

    I, too, stand by what I have said in response to both Trueman and Echo. Are we done yet?

  21. Echo_ohcE says:

    Well, I made a distinction between what I said and “guaranteed reprobate”. I’m not sure why you want to blow that off, but the distinction rests on the fact that I said, “unless they repent”. So that means that IF they repent they can be forgiven. That certainly rules out them being reprobate. Only God can make such pronouncements.

    But if what a Pastor preaches doesn’t constitute a valid profession of faith, well, then what can we say except that they need to repent, or else it doesn’t look good for them on Judgment Day?

    My point is simply that the Arminian gospel of most Evangelical churches is not THE gospel. Trueman doesn’t seem to want to make that distinction.

    There’s more to the gospel than the Apostle’s Creed, which ROME can still honestly confess.

    E

  22. Dylan Barry says:

    I had to re-read the post several times to get an idea of what is going on. In all honesty, Zrim is right ask how much praise do we give evangelicalism? Speaking only for myself, a lot of what Zrim describes in the post (primary) certainly resonates with me. I have no beef with those who sought to convert me, but rather the whole Christian “experience” was just that, just an experience. I notice that Oprah in her magazine speaks of spirituality in these terms: experience. I notice the in house debate has always rested on the idea of free-will, and so it is natural to see the concern among evangelicals to be on conversion. Chris having put it so well, one seeks conversions and the other disciples. I think that that is ultimately what Christians are seeking to be discipled and not just told to make a choice. It was true for me (maybe only for me).

    I could agree with Zrim that Echo would be served well by understanding the visible/invisible church distinction. I think that the whole disagreement rest on the will, but rather whose (God’s or man’s) acts first. It changes the whole perspective on the church’s mission among its own congregation. However, I do not think the ties can be easily severed between the confessionalists and evangelicals, nor are the differences strong enough to make speak in terms of condemnation and reprobate. So, yes, Zrim I think you have made your point well.

  23. Zrim says:

    Thanks, Dylan.

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