Friday, August 17, 2012

The Gospel Coalition, Resurgence, RE: Train: And The American Evangelical Captivity to Five Point Calvinist Theology

The Gospel Coalition is gaining an amazing reach into the Evangelical churches in North America (if not even internationally at some levels). Indeed, even my own local church has been and is being influenced by the reach of TGC (and the "denomination" our church is in [Calvary Chapel] is usually known to be more Arminian in orientation [if indeed Calvary Chapel's have a articulated theological orientation---which in fact they really don't!]). They offer and sponsor video series for church ministries (like on how to be missional or kingdom builders in urban settings), conferences for pastors (and lay folk alike), and now they are (at the least) associated with a "training" program offered to pastors that is said to be at the level of a 'Masters' level course load.

I understand that most pastors who associate themselves with TGC are certainly well intentioned guys who love Jesus, and want to be up on all of the cutting edge (what is perceived as such) ministry tools and trajectories that they can avail themselves of; I understand that! But from my perspective there is something more insidious going on here (from TGC's side); the fact is, is that what counts as the Gospel for The Gospel Coalition is this:

The Plan of God We believe that from all eternity God determined in grace to save a great multitude of guilty sinners from every tribe and language and people and nation, and to this end foreknew them and chose them. We believe that God justifies and sanctifies those who by grace have faith in Jesus, and that he will one day glorify them—all to the praise of his glorious grace. In love God commands and implores all people to repent and believe, having set his saving love on those he has chosen and having ordained Christ to be their Redeemer. [taken from The Gospel Coalition's 'Confessional Statement', point 5]

And this:

The Kingdom of God We believe that those who have been saved by the grace of God through union with Christ by faith and through regeneration by the Holy Spirit enter the kingdom of God and delight in the blessings of the new covenant: the forgiveness of sins, the inward transformation that awakens a desire to glorify, trust, and obey God, and the prospect of the glory yet to be revealed. Good works constitute indispensable evidence of saving grace.... [taken from The Gospel Coalition's 'Confessional Statement', point 10]

So what counts as the 'Gospel' for The Gospel Coalition is the same theology that funds the so called 5 points of Calvinism---indeed, it is The 5 POINTS of Calvinism, straight up. The reason that I said, earlier, that I think this is insidious (that is, TGC's mode of operation by framing themselves as simple purveyors of the Gospel, is that they speak and move, often, in cloaked ways; and intentionally so!), is because as I just noted, parenthetically, TGC knows that the theology of 5 point Calvinism in its naked, explicit form is offensive to many Evangelical Christians. So they have crafted a method, language, and a cultural posture that will make what they think counts as the 'Gospel' more acceptable to the masses of Evangelical leadership who finds their many resources (for pastors) appealing.

I just became aware of another movement that TGC is associated with (directly or indirectly, I am not sure), and it is actually another movement that is sponsoring a training program of which adopts TGC's 'Confessional Statement' as their own. The other movement that is directly associated with TGC is Mark Driscoll's Resurgence ministry which is seeking to instill his idiosyncratic mode of doing 'missional' ministry into the body lives of local churches all across America. I have just become aware of this, because one of the pastors from my own church (I just noticed on a social feed) is attending this training program put on by Driscoll's Mars Hill church in Seattle, WA; the training program is called RE: Train. Here is how RE: Train describes what they are about:

The Resurgence Training Center (Re:Train) is a one-year, intensive, cohort-based program designed to train leaders practically and theologically. The program is designed after popular “executive style” graduate programs to serve students currently serving in full-time ministry or for those who do not have time for semester-long courses. Students meet physically eight times per academic year; six weekend courses at regional hubs and two one-week courses at Mars Hill Church in Ballard. [taken from here]

And they say of their doctrinal commitments, this:

The administrators and teachers of Re:Train gladly embrace the Gospel Coalition Confessional Statement, and are members of Mars Hill Church or other like-minded congregations and institutions. All professors are chosen because of their exceptional knowledge in their respective field of study and their ability to teach in a useful and practical way. All professors will be world-class academicians in well-respected institutions or pastors who have the appropriate teaching credentials and ministry experience. [from here]

No matter how "good" the intentions of these folk are (and I mean at 'Resurgence' and The Gospel Coalition), they are covertly (in my estimation) conditioning an uncritical Evangelical church in America to believe that the theology that funds the 5 points of Calvinism is actually the Gospel! So all in all, this cultural Christian movement is dangerous; because they know exactly what they are doing, and they are doing so in an under-handed way. Although, I would imagine that many of the attendees at RE: Train know full well what is going on theologically behind RE: Train (and TGC), and they are fine with it.

All of the above said; I am more than concerned about how many pastors in the American Evangelical church are being taken captive, and in many instances, uncritically, by the theology of The Gospel Coalition and now RE: Train. It is not possible to attend an institution like this (which is explicitly and unabashedly committed to American 5 point Calvinist theology), weed out the bad, and end up with some sort of ecclesiastical (churchly) good. If the root is bad ... well, you know the rest. I am sincerely saddened by the fact that this movement is having such an impact on American Evangelicalism, they are making their move in an intentional fashion by grabbing hold of the pastors from all over America. They know that once they reorient the leadership in American Evangelical churches, then they will also reorient all of these pastor's local flocks.

In my next post (which will probably be later today), I will break down how those two statements that I shared above from TGC's 'Confessional Statement' are pure unadulterated statements of the TULIP.

PS. Here is a link that gives a fuller picture of the Vision of RE: Train.


  1. THANK YOU! For saying what needs to be said. It is insidious, even if the intent is benign. 5 point Calvinism has had a dramatic impact in the Evangelical Church in my lifetime. It limits the proclamation of the gospel, inhibits outreach, and intimidates many. God bless your ministry. Keep up the good work.

    1. Hi Bob,

      Thank you, and thanks for the encouragement. I am kicking against the goads with a post like this, which is associated with some personal connections. In other words, I do experience fall out even amongst my friends who are 5 point Calvinists, if and when they read posts like this from me. But I write posts like this because I sincerely believe that 5 point Calvinist THEOLOGY is dangerous to the Christian soul. I would not doubt that Martin Luther, Calvin and others had to kick against such goads, when they lived in a Roman Catholic ecclesio-political-cultural context; ironically those who claim these very reformer's lineage today, have created and are creating a Christian sub-culture that is very resonate with their Roman Catholic one. In other words, there is always going to be fall out when any of us kick against the predominate mode of popular theological discourse in America. It just happens that this mode is mostly shaped by 5 point Calvinist theology, at the popular level.

  2. I really don't see how TGC is insidious in its usage of Reformed theology. They have been very explicit about their Reformed identity from the get-go. Everyone knows that they are 5-point Calvinists. Their leaders (Piper, Mohler, Driscoll, etc.) are as vocal in their Calvinism as can be expected. Of course, TGC does not advertise the label of "Calvinism" at every turn, because they want the focus on the Gospel, just as Arminians don't advertise the "Arminian" label at every turn. Classical Calvinism is, in their estimation, the best, clearest, and most effective way to communicate the Gospel. [As you know, I think a Barthian modification of Reformed theology is a better, clearer, and more faithful articulation of the Gospel.] Thus, they use Calvinist language and Calvinist emphases all over the place...not slyly "crafting" a method and language that is palpable.

    Once again, "insidiuous" and "covertly" is just a ridiculous accusation. If certain Arminian (or generic evangelical) pastors are too inept to discern the theology of TGC, then that's not TGC's fault. I really can't imagine TGC being more clear about where they stand on Calvinist doctrine.

    You can pooh-pooh the theology of TGC all day long, but to attack their effectiveness as "covert" is something I expect on a political campaign trail...not on a serious theology blog.

    1. Give me a break, Kevin!

      I just quoted from TGC's Confessional Statement, where do you read anything about "Calvinism" in any part of their statement---other than the fact that is clearly representative of 5 point Calvinist theology [BUT, only for those who know how to discern such things ... like you, and me, and others who pay attention more closely]. You seem to be somewhat out of touch with people in the pew, at least in American Evangelicalism; most folk don't have a clue about what they ingest theologically from Sunday in Sunday out. This is primarily the audience of my posts here [not folk who can say things like "As you know, I think a Barthian modification of Reformed theology is better ..."]. Most folks DON'T know, and I think this can help explain how the theology of TGC and Resurgence etc. are making in roads into churches in Evangelicalism that have historically been opposed, even heatedly, toward Classic Calvinist theology (my particular local church exemplifies this in spades, but I know of plenty of others [I have pastor friends from various denominations who have also imbibed this kind of theology whether that be from TGC or MacARthur's Shepherd Conferences etc.].

      I know that they think (TGC Driscoll et al) that they have the Gospel owned; I am saying they don't and shouldn't! And I do think that TGC and Resurgence etc operate insidiously for the reasons I have already suggested.

    2. Kevin,

      The reason I've come to the conclusion about them operating covertly, at some level, is because I have been trying to conceive of an plausible explanation for why and how TGC and other movements like them are having the kind of impact they are with Evangelical churches that have been hitorically antagonistic towards classic Calvinist theology. When I read TGC's Confessional Statement they are neither explicit or overt about the fact that the theology they endorse is 5 point Calvinist in orientation. This has led me to think they have done this intentionally, and in a way that makes Calvinist theology appealing to those it wouldn't be otherwise. You're honestly going to assert that this isn't covert??

  3. I'm more worried about the personality cult, authoritarian ecclesiology and the money making ventures.

    Men like Driscoll make me think I'm reading a different Bible. I hope he is born from above some day.

    1. Cal,

      Yes, there is the personality cult thingy too; I know we all struggle with this one as humans!

      I wouldn't question if Driscoll is a Christian, but I obviously question the credibility of his theological approach.

  4. I really wasn't thinking of the average person in the pew. I was thinking of pastors and certain lay leaders -- the sort of people who actually consult TGC resources and go to conferences like Desiring God and Ligonier. These people are most certainly capable of knowing that TGC is explicitly Calvinist. I've been in Ev-Free, Southern Baptist, and Presbyterian churches that include both ordained and lay leaders who are very aware that TGC is Calvinist. If your Calvary Chapel folks can't tell a Reformed statement of faith from Adam and Eve, then oh well.

    This might be a regional difference between us. I am certain that I can walk into any Southern Baptist church in my area (all a hundred of them!), and every pastor on staff and every Sunday school teacher could tell me where they stand on the Calvinism issue. I'm not being hyperbolic -- every single one could tell me. Most don't know a thing about Barthianism, obviously, but they certainly know the basics of 5-point Calvinism.

    I actually knew a Calvary Chapel guy (a co-worker) when I was living in Iowa a couple years ago. He had left his Calvary Chapel congregation after discovering Desiring God resources, John Piper, and Mark Driscoll. He was actually applying to Piper's "seminary" at Bethlehem Baptist Church. He was fully aware of his newfound Reformed identity...after the typical journey of reading Reformed apologetic literature, talking with his pastors, debating friends, shunning his "man-centered" thinking, and so forth.

    Now, there is a lot that I don't like about TGC. The cult of personality is certainly one thing (Piper and MacArthur have their own seminaries, perpetuating the cult of personality). Patriarchy and Creationism would be high on my list of concerns as well. And, I respectfully disagree with their theology. But, Bobby, you really seem incapable of objectively critiquing this movement. You cite personal difficulties and falling out with friends, and I can understand why. Your animosity seethes through your blog posts. Double predestination is not the devilish thing you think it is. This whole libel screed is a shame. You have no evidence (just personal vitriol) about supposed covert methods of TGC.

    Sorry if this comes across as a personal attack. My concern is that you use your energy and talents to better ends. This post (and similar posts you've written) is, frankly, a grave misuse of your talents, Bobby. I don't have half the blogging energy that you have! I want to see your voice heard, but this undermines that voice.


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