Purple Prose — The Gospel According to Whom?

kinnon —  February 7, 2012 — 28 Comments

Over the weekend, I read an article written by Don Carson and Tim Keller called Carson and Keller on Jakes and the Elephant Room. Then on Monday, Scot McKnight wrote a post called Why? In that post, he wondered why people react to John Piper, Mark Driscoll and Al Mohler, but not to Tim Keller, when they all espouse, effectively, the same views on theology and ecclesiology.

So those two posts are the primary triggers for this post of mine where I do want to ask, the gospel according to whom?

Carson and Keller were writing from the platform of The Gospel Coalition. Note the definite article “The”, at the beginning of what they call their network. It isn’t A Gospel Coalition. It is The Gospel Coalition. We can deduce from the title that the men involved with TGC believe they represent The Gospel. And it is men, not women, in The Gospel Coalition. So it’s safe to assume that the only leaders in what they understand to be “The Gospel” are men.

What else do the men of TGC believe? Well, they are all either neo-reformed as Dave Fitch’s designates them or neo-Puritan in Scott McKnight’s descriptor, so the men of TGC would identify the gospel with a form of Calvinism. (Fitch would note that this would be Calvinism from within a North American context.) Is it fair to say that there are no Arminians involved with TGC; male nor female? Were they alive today, neither of the Wesley brothers would be welcomed to the TGC table, though it would be okay to sing a few of Charles’ hymns… as long as the worship leader was male, of course.

This is what they say about themselves,

We are a fellowship of evangelical churches deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures. We have become deeply concerned about some movements within traditional evangelicalism that seem to be diminishing the church’s life and leading us away from our historic beliefs and practices

And later,

We want to generate a unified effort among all peoples—an effort that is zealous to honor Christ and multiply his disciples, joining in a true coalition for Jesus. Such a biblically grounded and united mission is the only enduring future for the church. This reality compels us to stand with others who are stirred by the conviction that the mercy of God in Jesus Christ is our only hope of eternal salvation. We desire to champion this gospel with clarity, compassion, courage, and joy—gladly linking hearts with fellow believers across denominational, ethnic, and class lines.

But is it not fair to believe that this example of “a true coalition for Jesus” is one limited to truly reformed and patriarchal Christians? Which either means they don’t believe the rest of us are Christians or we simply don’t understand what the gospel is — if only we’d agree with them, then we could join. These dear men claim to want to gladly link hearts with fellow believers across denominational, ethnic, and class lines, (but not gender), but can we surmise that that would only be as long as you agree with their theological and ecclesiological positions?

So, it would seem, “the gospel”, in The Gospel Coalition is masculine and truly reformed. Their table is limited — much like their view on The Atonement.

But let me return to the 1st trigger for this post, Carson and Keller on Jakes and the Elephant Room. Now Keller & Carson’s primary concern is with where TD Jakes stands on the Trinity. This has been written/spoken about ad nauseam in the days since James McDonald’s ER2. Jakes claims to be Trinitarian and it seems Carson and Keller don’t believe him to be Trinitarian enough.

They then go on to express concern about the prosperity gospel which they write Jakes preaches. How odd that it’s a concern when Jakes preaches it, but not when Stephen Furtick does. Note that Furtick has been a part of both Elephant Rooms.

So, here’s what I want to ask Carson and Keller; if a poor Trinitarian understanding and the prosperity gospel are hindrances to relationship, where does blackmail fit in?

No, that’s not a non sequitur.

You see one of the celebrity pastors who is a part of The Gospel Coalition is CJ Mahaney. Mahaney and a number of his fellow leaders in Sovereign Grace Ministries stand accused of blackmailing the original cofounder of SGM, Larry Tomczak. This was, apparently, done in order to stop him from publicly disagreeing with SGM’s move towards a Calvinist theological position. (This happened over a decade ago, but was only fully revealed in the last year). One of the men involved with Mahaney at the time has publicly admitted it, asked for forgiveness and revealed the others’ complicity.

This is not news.

I wrote about it in this post, C.J. Mahaney & Semper Reformanda or …Not So Much. And it’s been covered in depth all over the blog universe. Just Google “CJ Mahaney blackmail” and you can read to your heart’s content.

And yes, I realize that SGM’s board has approved Mahaney’s return to SGM leadership but I also realize they did this before the real investigation report from an outside party has been completed. One might wonder whether this was done so he and his right hand man, Dave Harvey, can appear as speakers at April’s Together for the GospelT4G. (Read the linked-to above BHT post from an SGM member.)

This video of Mahaney with his three T4G co-founders made me sick to my stomach, when I viewed it this morning. These men should be ashamed of themselves. But they apparently don’t know what “shame” means… or “research” for that matter. When the CJ-Stepping-Down scandal first erupted last summer they chose to believe Mahaney over the hundreds hurt by his ministry. Isn’t that typical for the celebrity-driven church.

So back to Carson and Keller. Perhaps they can help me with my confusion; if a poor understanding of Trinitarian theology and the preaching of prosperity are cause for concern (and I don’t disagree that they are), should not one be concerned about a significant leader in your movement who uses blackmail to get his own way. (Trust me, there are many, many more reasons to question Mahaney’s fitness for church leadership, but this one will suffice for the moment.)

The fellows of TGC and T4G are more than willing to call out anyone they believe to be doing harm to their understanding of The Gospel.

Except, it would seem, if it’s one of their co-council members. (And I haven’t even mentioned a certain West Coast church leader, also on said council… well, not in this post, anyway.)

UPDATE: Todd Littleton adds to the discussion with Komen, Lifeway, SGM and T4G Or, Maintaining the “as is” Structure



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

28 responses to Purple Prose — The Gospel According to Whom?

  1. Bill – I found some acid relief when I saw a link to the recent announcement by SGM on the Out of Ur blog. What is scary is how you in Canada and me in fly-over Country USA are disturbed by the same issues? Imagine that!

    Fellow treading fool . . . 😉

  2. This is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever read.

    If people want to know why the church in North America is dying … this kind of story (which is all to prevalent) is the place to start.

    Christians are to live lives of integrity … this means being at one with God. That’s not a life of integrity, with the sole exception of the man who apologized after 15 years.

  3. Life in the church should not be a horror story.

  4. Bill

    Do you know where this investigation is at and why they reinstated him before it’s conclusion? Did they do their own? I am most confused. Why did they reinstate him?

    • Dan,
      I linked to this in the post. It tells the story as does this. This stuff is beyond sick, some of the “creepiest stuff” I’ve ever read, to borrow from Sonja. I have zero respect for Duncan, Mohler and Dever in all of this. And am sadly losing respect for Tim Keller, who I once held in very high regard.

      • Thanks; I read that first link. I am mystified. The cult of celebrity preacher scares me.

      • Narcissists are attracted to power. Church leadership can be a powerful position so it attracts more than its fair share. And that’s not to ignore the corrupting effect that that kind of power can have on good people. Especially when we all can be like the Israelites in 1 Samuel 8.

  5. I post my own theory on Tim Keller a while ago: link to cityofgodblog.com

  6. If you want to know how bad it really is, check out these links…for starters. Seems they are reading the blogs. So ,they are going to now teach us about “celebrity pastors”. The irony is delicious.

    Isn’t this akin to Stalin schooling us on the “cult of personality”.

    link to t4g.org

    link to thegospelcoalition.org

    link to thegospelcoalition.org

  7. Thanks for this well worded and much needed criticism, Bill. The prevalence of the prosperity gospel is one of my gravest concerns today, in the UK as much as in the US. The very blatant prosperity preachers might be called out, but there are so many who routinely preach “prosperity lite” that it has become widely accepted and many Christians don’t even know what’s wrong with it.

  8. Pretty alarming post on so many levels here.
    Thanks Bill, and I appreciate everyone posting these links, I do plan on clicking and reading.

    Regarding the TGC, I generally see them as a trifecta of power-hungry people and poor theological expression and some good, sincere people all mixed in. May be over-simplified but you get what I mean.

    • Tim

      I am not a member of TGC but am fairly aligned to it. I would agree that I am power hungry and express theology poorly. Weird how well you know my heart….

  9. Bill, Terrific post! Mahaney’s blackmail is the elephant in the room. Some of us brought it up over on the 9Marks blog, and our comments were quickly removed.

    I have to keep reminding myself that The Gospel Coalition has only been around for 4 years (I think). Together for the Gospel (T$G – I did it again! That dollar sign is right above the 4 on the keyboard) began in 2006. You would think they have been around FOREVER!

    • Thanks, Wanda (Deb).

      I really hate writing these kind of posts, but I’m profoundly sad/angry at how seemingly good people can willful ignore the ongoing abuse of their sisters & brothers. It’s not as if there isn’t more than enough SGM material available to provide the basis for intervention on the part of those who “relate to” Mahaney. But they choose to either be silent or defend him instead.

  10. I’d like to believe that some of the people on the Council for the Coalition are solid, ethical, biblical people. Really, I would.

    But back in the 70’s and 80’s, charismatics happily embraced the Shepherding Movement, and evangelicals likewise embraced Bill Gothard’s Principles. Amazing to read how many Christian leaders didn’t say anything during those years, although everyone now denounces those movements for what they were: spiritual abuse, false teachings, and the bad fruit of many devastated lives.

    And now, history repeats itself: the Shepherding Movement has been re-marketed as “A Culture of Honor” for charismatics and is promoted by the top leaders of the Apostolic Reformation, and The Gospel Coalition’s own Council is remarkably silent about some of it’s own members who have been exposed as abusive and unaccountable leaders (no names, of course, but do the initials “MD” suggest anything?).

    I’d like to believe that some of the people on the Council for the Coalition are solid, ethical, biblical people. Really, I would.

    But then, I guess I’d need to seem some evidence of it.

  11. Gee, thanks for the response, Bill. And for highlighting it as a tweet.

    Makes me doubly embarrassed about my spelling mistake in the final, climactic summary line. (it should read “see”, not “seem”) 🙂

  12. “We are a fellowship of evangelical churches deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ…”

    So, do you want them [Piper, et al.] to use ‘a gospel of Christ’?
    I think you made way too big a deal over the group’s name.

  13. Man, everytime [whiich is not many] that I post on a blog, I get the green, sea-sick face!

  14. This is the type of infeuding that has caused denominations within Christ’s bride. God speaks to his prophets, teachers, pastors, and apostles in various ways for various reasons. It is not our job to discern the motivation and theological perspective from which an article’s author has come.

  15. “The fellows of TGC and T4G are more than willing to call out anyone they believe to be doing harm to their understanding of The Gospel…”

    After this gut-wrenching review that came out today, link to theologyforwomen.org , how can they continue to remain silent?


Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Komen, Lifeway, SGM and T4G Or, Maintaining the “as is” Structure | The Edge of the Inside - February 8, 2012

    […] Bill Kinnon. He took the bait. David Fitch posted Scot McKnight’s, “Why,” about the different responses to Piper/Driscoll […]

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