My heart is heavy with the whole Together for the Gospel movement. Doing a brief survey of the speakers, it appears that there are many from both reformed and Southern Baptist backgrounds.
It seems that the basic premise is: We can differ on ecclesiology and even on some eschatology but we preach the same gospel. We need to get back to the gospel.
Well, I disagree that such a conference and stance clarifies the true gospel, instead it confuses it and dilutes it.
Before I go on….I think those who know me would understand that I write this out of a spirit of love for our Lord and for the truth of God’s Word. This is not written because of a separatist bone-to-pick. I just believe that separating the gospel from the entirety of the Word of God would be as difficult and impossible as trying to separate the Trinity itself! Please know also that if you are at T4G then I do not condemn you. Neither do I judge the speakers and organizers nor their motives. I pray God’s blessing upon you and them as much as God can bless.
Now, here are some reasons why I think the whole T4G movement actually confuses the gospel:
- If one sprinkles infants this communicates a different gospel.
As a pastor and church planter God gave me the opportunity to minister to dozens from a reformed background. Many were confused as to how they knew they were really saved. Some were really depending on their child confirmation and baptism instead of a faith alone in Jesus Christ.
- If most of your missions is helping the needy instead of planting churches this is the social gospel and it is a different gospel.
While visiting churches looking for a church home here in Texas, I have observed several churches take missions trips to do such things as build houses, feed the poor, pass out water etc. While these are good things, I noticed that most of these “missions trips” had the articulation of the gospel absent. I would say that this is flirting very close with the false social gospel.
David Platt is a speaker at t4g2012. His teachings first seem inspiring as to global missions. While there is something to be gained, we need to be very careful. Brother Platt is one who is very non-committle on end time events. According to his church’s statement of faith, he seems to lean towards teaching that we are in the beginning of the Kingdom, as opposed to distinguishing the Kingdom as the future literal thousand year reign of Christ. In this statement of faith, Brother Platt goes to great lengths in describing why a type of social gospel is part of his dogma. Also, missions seems to be focused on articulating the gospel while doing good works with little to mention of church planting which is the model of Paul and the apostles.
- If your methodology, music, and philosophy is one of “attract a huge crowd while trying to be relevant to the world” then this confuses the gospel and creates a different gospel.
Those who are T4G might condemn me saying that I am placing my particular “brand” of theology in front of practical evangelism and discipleship. Well, all I have to say is that I live in a state that has swallowed the whole SBC for many years. I have visited dozens of churches. Most everyone attends some sort of Baptist Church (or church formerly known as Baptist). Most have ruined lives with a rampant divorce rate. Most know enough of the Bible to be dangerous but are not discipled at all. Here in Texas I have visited many churches who’s seats weekly are filled with many unregenerate people thinking they are Christians! Weekly they hear a something of the gospel, but the message is outshouted by many things. The gospel and the process of sanctification that comes with it is sadly hidden and almost absent.
Of course I am speaking in generalities about the SBC movement. I have not visited the particular ministries of the speakers of T4G 2012. From what I know of their writings and sermons, many are much more solid than what I have observed in other churches. In fact, many are reacting against the “American Idol” church scene that their denominations have produced. Yet, I cannot help but to think that the whole “nothing-else-matters-as-much” attitude is why the fluffy churches have become what they are.
- If one confuses the distinctions between Israel and the church then this leads to a different gospel.
Covenant theology is rapidly gaining in popularity. As a result, even some who claim to be traditional dispensationalist are suspicious of traditional dipensationalism. The Presbyterian influence is why you will see so many of these t4g men lean toward elder rule and what they articulate which we have labeled as Lordship Salvation. For example in MacArthur’s “The Gospel according to Jesus”, Dr. MacArthur uses many NT passages which dispensationalist traditionally attribute as teaching for the future Kingdom and uses them as though they were directed toward the church. In the same way, David Platt uses many Old Testament passages which are in reference to Israel and uses them as though they were meant for the church-age. One can easily see how confusion between the distinctions of Israel and a church leads to confusion on what is the very gospel message.
- If one may not practice yet condones the modern “manifestation” of the sign gifts then this confuses the true gospel and unites with those who teach that the baptism of the Spirit is something other than the true gospel.
While involved in Hispanic ministries, we have had hundreds of opportunities to interact with our charismatic friends and those who have made a profession of faith in that movement. I know dozens of people who have placed their faith in an experience rather than in Christ alone. Indeed, charismatic theology confuses the gospel.
There is more I can say about this. A popular speaker at t4g2012 ministers here in the Dallas area (Matt Chandler). His church practices all sign-gifts. This would include tongues & their interpretations, prophecies, and healing. The doctrine of pneumatology does effect the doctrine of soteriology. It really does! While I promise not to throw the baby out with the bath water of the positive contributions of these men (see the PS), I can tell you first-hand that many are taking the bath water with the baby of these men’s teachings. This breaks my heart. Already, I see many men swallowing the notion that the fact that the gospel is central means that other of the ten major doctrines do not matter as much! Sadly, the cohesiveness of the inherency and veracity of the Scriptures (which T4G embraces) is the very doctrine that is being inadvertently desecrated by saying that ecclesiology, eschatology, and pneumatology are not as vital in our obedience and carrying out of the great commission as long as we are together on the gospel.
We need a major revival back to teaching the truth with love. The Word (all of it!) when preached with compassion changes lives!!! The Bible, when practiced in its entirety, produces great and supernatural results. It is not trendy, but it works! More than that – it is right. There is GREAT unity when there is agreement on the truth of the whole counsel of God. You may not be seeing these results in the little church you grew up in, but trust me – the fault does not lie with the theology!
Many of these speakers may be “close enough” in their theology but I believe that the end result of this movement is not going to be a greater commitment to the true gospel; but a going away from it instead. Remember that when a ship’s rudder is only a little off, it gets further off-course through time.
Thank you for allowing me to share my perspective.
May God richly bless you as you search the Word and seek to be most pleasing unto our precious Savior.
PS – (added on 4/12/11) May I speak to my generation of ministers? That is, the younger-ish grads from fundamental Bible colleges:
In the Seventies churches focused on evangelism (think tent revivals and busing in kids). While the churches in our circles grew and were strengthened so did the battle lines between Baptist movements. Some in our circles did indeed become arguably imbalanced in a focus on apologetics (think debates over PowerPoint and suits & ties) over further evangelism and discipleship. Thus new converts were not made. Discussions reached a boiling point a little over a decade ago when a popular church growth book came out which encouraged pastors to do everything with the driven-purpose of seeing the church reach and disciple the lost. It was one of the major books with SBC ties which rang true to those in our circles and to all Christiandom. It was refreshing and challenged many of us to self-evaluate, “Is our church really effectively doing what Christ commanded us to do?” Common sense hit many in the forehead as they realized that their church was done the way it was always done even though there was no longer a real purpose with tangible results. It was time for a change. Unfortunately, the book also encouraged pastors to instill corporate models of marketing into the church. We were told to do things such as survey the community to see what they wanted in a church. We were told that the most popular radio station should dictate the style of music in the church. We were told not to preach true expositional textual messages but instead to topically relate to the felt-needs of the seekers, i.e. the unsaved. Thousands emulated this book and others like it and the modern seeker-friendly craze was born. I am positive it was not Rick’s intention, but many began to look for methods that “worked” instead of stopping to think about what Christ wanted (this is also, if we search our hearts, why we were first attracted to these “ultra-cool” ministries – they looked like they were working. So much so, that there are those in our generation who became open to being lead away from what we once thought was Christ honoring – polity especially). Thankfully, men such as a couple of those who would eventually form T4G had mostly experienced the fallacy in the seeker-based model and re-emphasized the Gospel as central. Again, this was and is refreshing! For many pastors it is a breath of fresh air to listen to passionate speakers who are only talking about Christ, the Word, and souls. How refreshing to hear men who are setting up their churches to function around the Christ rather than the unsaved! Thankfully they have discovered that by doing so people ARE actually accepting Christ and being integrated into the church. They realize that the gospel means more than just tents and buses, but that it includes discipleship without gimmicks. The Holy Spirit within us affirms that this message trumps other messages we hear. Most in our circles were busy bashing the purpose-driven movement, the SBC, and the institutions who condoned them. Others were slowly embracing them. While the fight was raging we heard a third voice from these T4G men. They simply talked about Christ, salvation, and personal devotion to the fundamentals of the faith and the cross – all for the glory of God. (MacArthur’s “Ashamed of the Gospel” and later John Piper’s “Desiring God” come to mind). It was refreshing!
So, pastors attended these conferences and discovered that they came back more refreshed and challenged in their personal walk with Christ than they did by attending conferences in their own circles. Furthermore, the churches of T4G are apparently thriving much more than the churches we grew up in.
I certainly understand all of this. The problem is that the premise of the T4G movement is imbalanced because it is embraced as a reaction to other movements which were imbalanced. Just as with popular authors of the past, there is a sort of boyish crush on these men and many are seeking to emulate their passion & philosophy. Yet, in order to do so it means stepping on a path of minimizing the Scriptural truths that we were once convinced of as clear Scriptural truths. If you are one of these, then this probably does not set well with your former pastor, professors, and maybe even parents. The fact that many of you are in Kentucky today no doubt disturbs some of the older deacons in the very church you pastor. On the other hand, what is coming across as cynicism and militancy disturbs you. So, we have half of our constituency seeking to be more like the churches of T4G almost incognito and the other half concerned about it but cannot say much because so many of you are attending and receiving a genuine blessing from it.
So, in order to be at peace with it all, there has been a move to say that what we once thought were clear teachings of Scripture regarding specific points of ecclesiology, eschatology, and even pneumatology are not important or vital to pleasing the Lord as it turns out. Lately a friend told me, “I teach the pre-millennial and pre-tribulational return of Christ because that is what our church constitution states; but I am not so convinced of it myself.” The assumption is that this doctrine and others do not affect the gospel nor the fundamentals of the faith. They do, they really do. The other assumption is that minimizing these doctrines for the sake of having a unified voice with others articulating Christ-alone will create stronger disciples. This is the fallacy of the movement. The T4G men teach and preach their views in their own churches (reformed theology, full-use of the sign gifts, the non-commitle on the order of end-time events) as a means to (in thier view) strengthen the converts. Yet, we are supposed to minimize our beliefs so that we are comfortable sitting under these men’s teaching?
There are vibrant churches out there led by humble men who still believe and defend all the clear teachings of Scripture that you were once convinced of. Why not emulate them? We can invite them to speak. Allow their personal, joyful, real daily devotion to the Savior to strengthen our walk. Allow their passion for souls and love for the gospel to influence our churches. There are men who’s ministries are strong and have stood the test of time. They avoided knee-jerk reactions to all the evangelical trends that have come and gone over many years. Wht not make them our heroes? Why not follow them as they follow Christ? They are not published on our Kindles. They are not talked about in Christianity Today. They do not have a podcast. Yet they have been defending the gospel and pleasing our Lord Jesus with balanced vibrant ministries that have remained relevant to the ever changing culture (we can help them get a podcast). Don’t worry, we will not hear them articulate platitudes of “you should always wear a tie.” Neither will we feel negative bitter vibes about how everyone else is wrong. Still they believe how they do not because of being trapped in tradition or because of a fear of change but because they cannot get away from their convictions which are a result of a literal normal interpretation of Scripture. To me some of these humble heroes are my father, Dan Whitcher and my father-in-law, Tom Farlow. Also, great men like Dr. Robert Domokos and Dr. David Little. Let’s emulate them and those like them. Follow them as they follow Christ. In doing so, we will not have to pretend that pointing out the fallacies of practices such as “new” revelations & prophecies via tongues or the practice of sprinkling infants are not indeed necessary to a God-pleasing, soul-winning & sheep-strengthening gospel ministry.