Tullian Tchividjian, The Gospel Coalition, and a (rather obvious) theology problem

Over the last few days, a public airing of differences is taking place between members of The Gospel Coalition (TGC). (The two key posts seem to be here and here, for those interested.)

Apparently, one of the bloggers at TGC, Tullian Tchividjian (pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church), has had a season of disagreement with those who run the organization, which led to him being asked to leave the coalition. Tchividjian’s departure seems related to how TGC’s leaders handled allegations of child abuse among two other former members of TGC, C. J. Mahaney and Joshua Harris of Sovereign Grace Ministries.

In any event, Tchvidijian is apparently both hurt and angered at the circumstances surrounding his “departure,” enough to accuse publicly TGC and its founders D. A. Carson (NT professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School outside of Chicago) and Tim Keller (pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC) of “flat out” lying about it.

If true, this wouldn’t be the first time those in power have spun the truth to protect themselves. It’s happened before, and it will happen again, and Christian organizations are unfortunately not immune for such maneuverings.

As for me, on a certain level, I don’t really care about this specific issue.

I am not interested in ferreting out who did what, as if I have personally something at stake in the outcome or that it’s any of my business. We all have our own issues to deal with, and as Aslan told Jill Pole in The Silver Chairher only responsibility is for her story not for Eustace Scrubb’s.

“But Pete, the world is watching and the name of Christ is being maligned as a result!”

No, the world isn’t watching. Most of the world hasn’t heard of TGC, Tchividjian, Carson, Keller, etc. A few people are watching, and I’d be willing to bet most are looking on more in a voyeuristic manner, rooting for their side, but otherwise not missing a beat in the daily lives. Souls are not being won or lost here.

So why am I posting on this bickering?

The story posted on The Christian Post, which covered Tchividjian’s response to the Carson/Keller explanation/spin/lie (whatever), included a train of thought that struck me as exhibiting a remarkable lack of self-awareness by Tchividjian (emphasis mine):

Tchividjian believes that some at TGC have adopted a very critical tone. “I think that’s their tone. That has become their tone. That’s not the tone of everybody there but that is the tone of some prominent voices there: critical, very, very quick to point out what’s theologically wrong out there, very slow to pick apart what’s theologically wrong in here in terms of their own position … and I think people pick up on that,” he said.

Tchividjian, who considers himself Reformed, noted that just because these voices also considered themselves Reformed, one should not see their behavior as the fruits of their doctrine.

Theology is not to blame here. You can’t blame theology for the way that you handle it. It’s good theology in the hand of bad sinners. That becomes dangerous,” said Tchividjian. “When the Christian faith becomes little more than theological propositions and categories, you’re not actually thinking about how theology serves people, it can become divisive.

“Anytime you associate yourself with a movement, you think that is at the center of the universe, and there is a much larger Christian and Evangelical world out there that is now looking at The Gospel Coalition, which seemed to start out as a positive movement that was for Gospel centrality and cultural engagement,” continued Tchividjian. “And now the tone from all the people I hear and my opinion is very much what we’re against. People just aren’t attracted to that.”

Though I agree with Tchividjian’s take on the “center-of-the-universe-what-we’re-against-the other-guy-is-the-problem” vibe TGC is known for, Tchividjian misses a more central–and I feel rather obvious–point.

“Theology is not to blame here.” Yes it is Tullian. Yes it most definitely is. On two related levels.

First, the resurgence of Reformed theology in American evangelicalism and fundamentalism–commonly referred to as the Neo-Reformed movement–is a belligerent movement. This is why it exists–to correct others, not to turn the spotlight inward. There are exceptions within, of course, and I am by no means suggesting everyone who sees him or herself as part of this movement exhibits this tendency. But the “system” is set up to fight. It’s what they do.

So don’t be shocked, Tullian, if it happens to you. Yesterday’s heroes can quickly become tomorrow’s vanquished foes. When “contending for the gospel” is your center of gravity, there’s always a foe. There has to be.

Second, theology proper is to blame here–”theology” as in how we understand God.

Christians who can’t seem to walk away from a fight–who seem uncomfortable in a peace vacuum, who feel the gospel is at stake with nearly every perceived errant thought or difference of opinion, and who feel they need to group together and found organizations to protect the truth against all ungodly attacks–are showing us what their God is like.

If you are a fighter, chances are the God you imagine is:

fundamentally hacked off, retributive, touchy, demanding of theological precision, uncompromising, takes-no-prisoners-and-gives-no-quarter, whose wrath needs to be appeased so watch your step.

If that’s your God, you have full permission–in fact, you are commanded– to fight a lot, especially with other Christians–a modern day Phinehas weeding out the covenant breakers among us (Numbers 25), God’s instrument of retribution.

Whether or not we are even aware of it, how we act reflects what we deeply believe. In fact, as Christians, there is no truer measure of what we really believe God is like, deep down, the God that really drives us and energizes us, our life source, than how quickly we feel the need to erect walls and continually narrow the boarders of who is in and who is out.

Tullian, whatever is going on at TGC, you can bet your bottom dollar it has everything to do with theology. It is, in fact, a right, proper, and wholly consistent expression of that theology. I’m a bit surprised you don’t see that, but maybe your departure is a blessing.


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  • Matt Blackmon

    I would add the only thing missing is the celebration ceremony after each battle whereby awards of valor, merit, integrity, and “premier-ness” are bestowed on those who have vanquished the enemies of Christ and the gospel–all the better if those who have been defeated were once “false” brothers and partners!

  • Mido F

    I read posts like these and an image of an opportunistic pathogen that strikes its compromised host immediately comes to mind. Clearly your taking full advantage of this infighting of an organization (TGC) in which you disagree to show, in triumphalistic way, how much more superior your more progressive “big tent Christianity” theology is to the neo-reformed movement, which is ironic because that exactly what your critiquing them for. Physician, heal thyself

    • http://jacobarminius.blogspot.com/ William

      What he demonstrated here is merely true of Calvinists historically — read your Calvinist history.

      • Mido F

        I am not a Calvinist, nice try

        • http://jacobarminius.blogspot.com/ William

          I didn’t say you were, nice try.

          • Mido F

            “Read your Calvinist history” you’ll forgive me for misunderstanding that statement

          • http://jacobarminius.blogspot.com/ William

            Even non-Calvinists read Calvinist history.

          • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

            Maybe non-Calvinists do it in a less-biased fashion. :-|

          • Guest

            Right, because Calvinists are so very objective. :-[

          • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

            Confirmation bias may well be part of how consciousness works; see Grossberg 1999, The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness. This is why I say that Intersubjectivity is Key. :-) If you really want your noodle baked, go back to when “ha-Satan” was known as an ‘accuser’. Was he necessarily being evil? I mean, if I point out problems in someone else’s thought, is that necessarily wrong? Mt 7:5 indicates it is wrong unless I have the right motive. Yikes!

          • Westcoastlife

            Oh, I think Pete Enns has the right motive here. I just love how TGC defenders pick on people’s motives.

            I just reread the most disturbing on-line testimony from the Sovereign Grace/C.J. Mahaney victims, again, (it was reposted and I was trying to remember if I had read something there or not, in the end not, but it was a reminder of what happens when you treat pedophilia and being up set about pedophilia as equivalent sins). After a woman’s daughter was raped by her babysitter, the silly pastors spent the whole time accusing her of “bad motives” and “gossip” when she pointed out he hadn’t just “touched” the 2 year old girl, as he claimed, but fully raped her. They then chastised and kicked that family out of the church because of their anger over the situation.

            Now you are accusing Pete Enns of bad motives for pointing out that TGC is just there to police others and win theological fights. Here is a reality check: TGC cannot manage it’s own member’s motives, so it/they should quit attacking everyone who disagrees with them or is upset with their nonchalant support of a church leader who swept massive sexual abuse in his church under the rug for decades, and worry about their own mess in-house. It is fair and wise to warn other Christians about the state of that group when weighing whether to read their blogs, use their sermons or buy their books. Information is not a bloodsport. Warnings are not about winning, they are about protecting the body.

            P.S. I highly doubt Mahaney’s churches were the only places run by TGC board members where pedophiles found safe havens. The internet is rumbling today – the way it was 5 or 6 years ago about CJ Mahaney- against another TGC council member who was in charge and hid what he knew. Mahaney/Harris may not be the last of that group to be called out on the internet for despicable inaction (or, in this case, deliberate deceptive action). That may also explain their overall reluctance to distance themselves from Mahaney. Mahaney may not be on council any more, but he is scheduled to speak at one of their conferences soon. So, he is hardly let-go by them.

          • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

            Now you are accusing Pete Enns of bad motives

            Am I? Take a breath, and read my other comment (and this).

      • Kyle

        Credendum maybe go one further and just say read history. I think you critique of Calvinism is right. It just might be right about all cultural movements. I’d be thrilled if you could find a movement that was in general charitable towards its opponents. And before the chorus says (perhaps rightly) “well Calvinists are especially bad at this”, let’s consider the usefulness of statements like that to our own spiritual well-being.

        • http://jacobarminius.blogspot.com/ William

          I’d suggest that the Arminians were rather charitable, especially to the Dortians who exiled them from Holland; and even though the rhetoric of the early Arminians toward Roman Catholics was just as strong as the Calvinists, the Arminians were still advocating for religious toleration in Holland, even of Papist views and Socinianism.

          I understand what you’re getting at, though, but the topic at hand is the fundamentlist context of the neo-Puritans (new Calvinists), and history informs us that their spiritual heritage tells the same story.

          Quakers were quite charitable :^)

          • Kyle

            Those are great examples! The only reason I care to qualify our critiques with “but so is everybody else”, is that those of us outside the gospel coalition/YRR movement love to critique it. So even though the topic at hand is indeed the oft-frustrating neo-puritans – we’ve gone over their faults so much its probably time to admit our own along with theirs.

            I mean really, did anyone read this article and think – I’ve never recognized that about the YRR or Gospel Coalition before? Not to say the article wasn’t useful, it just gets automatically applauded or decried based on the readers already present bias. It seems like honesty/generosity is the only new thing that can be added to the discussion.

          • http://jacobarminius.blogspot.com/ William

            I get you. I will admit, though, that I would have far more respect for some of them (Mohler, Piper, Keller, Carson, Taylor, Carter et al.) if they would just own their mistakes, bring themselves to account, and publicly repent. Instead, what we’re seeing is a justifying of their sin. This is why I applaud posts like this.

          • Matt Matty

            ^^THIS! Just own up to your mistakes already. These guys just strike me as being so cold and calculating. I guess when you’re running a megachurch though, that’s just your MO.

          • Westcoastlife

            Although many of us outside the Gospel Coalition would also critique any christian group sweeping pedophilia/abuse under a rug, or the really poor pastoral skill that enabled massive amounts of pedophilia/abuse to flourish. It isn’t just a “Calvinist” thing that is creating the backlash, it is looking at what an authoritarian church structure can do to those at the bottom of the pyramid (children). It is by no means just TGC/YRR, many non-Calvinist churches can be authoritarian and dangerous too. However, TGC is far more influential in the Evangelical circles many of us travel than, say, IFB churches, for example. So, most of us see TGC blogs and comments in our feeds far, far more frequently, and, therefore, react accordingly. Trust me, I don’t like authoritarianism of any stripe or theological flavour, but TGC is far more present on the internet and far more defensive about their own correctness – even when the situation blew up all over them, they deal in a high level of denial.

            So, we fairly look at their theology to see why these horrors could occur in one of their council member’s church(es) for years, even decades, go to court and still be ignored by the Coalition. What sort of theology OKs babies getting raped? What sort of theology tells a mother that she must remain married to her pedophile husband once he is finished his jail term for raping her kids, or they will kick her and her kids out of the church and the church school (because divorce is wrong)? Yes, it does cause one to take a second look at a theology that allows a leader to lead with impunity and hide under the theological cloak of “we are all sinners” when they massively screw up and harm those they were called to protect. How convenient, they have a theology that said God put them in positions of power, but doesn’t require them to do “good” there, since they don’t believe humans can do “good” anyways – too busy being dirty, rotten little sinners. Yeah, that does raise some questions and concerns.

    • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

      Do you think beliefs can be judged by actions? My other comment provides more nuance, should you desire it.

  • http://rachelheldevans.com Rachel Held Evans

    As we say over at the less theological blogs: “drops mic.”


    Nice post, Pete.

    • John William Brandkamp


    • Tat45

      Dropping mics damages them and makes the musician in me cringe.

  • http://jacobarminius.blogspot.com/ William

    Great post, Dr. Enns. Reading this post gave me a reflection of the kind of person I was when I adopted Calvinism — every issue a gospel issue, I existed to police all opponents. I feel so badly for the victims of this angry movement.

    • Mido F

      ” I feel so badly for the victims of this angry movement” A perfect example of the smug self-righteous attitude these blog posts foster

      • http://jacobarminius.blogspot.com/ William

        This coming from a smug commentator … hypocrisy much?

        • Mido F

          What you can’t point out smug and self-righteousness without being smug and self-righteous?

          • Guest

            Your own words.

          • http://jacobarminius.blogspot.com/ William

            You judge my sincerity about feeling sad for the victims of Calvinism, thus demonstrating your own smugness in calling me smug and self-righteous. Are you God? Do you know my heart? Hence your smugness.

        • Michael Hardin

          I’m curious…how does an ad hominem statement like this advance the conversation?

          • http://jacobarminius.blogspot.com/ William

            Certainly you’re asking this of “Mido F” and not me, right, Michael?

          • Michael Hardin


          • http://jacobarminius.blogspot.com/ William

            Thank you …

      • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

        I think it is extremely important to engage one’s emotions and be sad when people are hurt by those who ought to have known better. Ezekiel seems to agree, quite strongly:

        And the LORD said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the house. (Ezek 9:4-6)

  • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

    Tchividjian, who considers himself Reformed, noted that just because these voices also considered themselves Reformed, one should not see their behavior as the fruits of their doctrine.

    Wow, just wow. Let’s try some Jesus, instead of Tchividjian:

    “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Mt 7:15-20)

    Scientists know that you test a hypothesis against reality. They know that there are many ways to screw this up, so that you didn’t actually test the hypothesis. But they also know that after enough failures, you really do have to question the hypothesis. I’m pretty sure Jesus would agree that this ought to be applied to theology. Now, one can always doubt one’s proper grasp of a key bit of scripture, instead of saying that it’s wrong. But I doubt Tchividjian wants to go there. He wants to claim that one’s beliefs can be spot-on, without one’s actions following suit. No, this just ain’t true. The actions are the fruit of the beliefs.

    • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

      Another problem for Tchividjian:

      Yet wisdom is justified by all her children. (Luke 7:35)

      The attempt to separate what is taught (Calvinism) from “her children” is laughable. Yes there can be bad practitioners of anything. But once you’ve collected enough data, questions need to be asked.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice Morgan Guyton

    It’s the difference between Phinehas’ spear and Jesus’ cross.

    • Samuel Shaw

      That sounds interesting – care to elaborate?

    • Michael Hardin


    • David Randall

      Phinehas’ spear (though not to be compared to the cross) also had the effect of turning away the wrath of God from the congregation. But, we do have to be very careful that we are taking up the spear for the right cause, or we become Cain rather than Phinehas.

  • Zach Hollifield

    Right, why defend the gospel. It’s not like any of the NT wiriters do that…

  • Kenneth Ferguson

    “Whether or not we are even aware of it, how we act reflects what we deeply believe.” <— Because their is no difference in belief and action.

  • http://www.religionforbreakfast.com Andrew Henry

    Astute observation that “the world isn’t watching.” Our tribe-centric mentality highlights how we care more about curating our own little kingdoms here on earth instead of trying to work for the Kingdom of God.

  • Mike Mayo

    I dunno… I guess I look at these movements as more “empire builders” than gospel advancing. One of the most effective ways to attract more participants/members is to provide a common enemy. A lot of fundamentalist churches I’ve attended use this strategy EXTREMELY well. It’s under the guise of “not of this world”… but it’s effectively lived out as, “everyone not like us is the enemy and we must protect ourselves first and let God sort them out on judgment day”… you can see how this would inspire people to bond closer if they were constantly told the liberals, atheists, school systems, scientists, government, progressive christians are all out to destroy their belief system. IMO, it’s this natural tendency to bond together under persecution that is both a huge blessing to the christian community and also one of it’s largest corruptions.

  • John

    This is a remarkably insensitive post, Pete. You fail to understand that the origins of this conflict between Tullian and TGC have to do with TGC’s rallying in support of CJ Mahaney when Mahaney and his church were alleged to have ignored, or possibly covered up, the long-term sexual abuse of dozens of children at Covenant Life Church. The point Tullian is making in the statement that begins “Theology is not to blame here”– the section that seems to have provoked your response, is that he doesn’t disagree with the theology of TGC, but he does disagree with TGC’s unqualified support of a church leader who potentially ignored, and maybe even created a church culture that fostered, the sexual abuse of children. So when you write that, “on a certain level, [you] don’t really care about this specific issue,” you are implying that you don’t care about the sexual abuse of children at a large evangelical church. Shame on you for such a cavalier and uninformed response.

    • Darryl Stringer

      Thanks John. But Carson and Keller give a different reason for asking Tullian to leave TGC:

      “In Tullian’s case, it was obvious to observers that for some time there
      has been an increasingly strident debate going on around the issue of
      sanctification. The differences were doctrinal and probably even more
      matters of pastoral practice and wisdom. Recently it became clear that
      the dispute was becoming increasingly sharp and divisive rather than
      moving toward greater unity. Earlier in the year our executive director
      spent two days with Tullian in Florida. Coming out of that meeting, it
      was decided that Tullian would move his blog. Finally the Council at its
      meeting last week decided that Tullian should move his blog
      immediately, and we communicated this conclusion to Tullian.”
      Source: http://thegospelcoalition.org/article/on-some-recent-changes-at-tgc

      Who’s right?

      • John

        Well, of course Carson and Keller gave a different reason for Tchividjian’s departure. They are spinning the story so TGC doesn’t look bad for it’s support of Mahaney, and this is why Tchividjian called them liars in his interview with the Christian Post. As for Chris’s comments, which echo Pete’s initial sentiments, I’ll let them stand for what they are: insensitive and shortsighted. Failure to hold evangelical leaders accountable for fostering or ignoring abusive environments (especially patriarchial environments that discourse and disempower victims of abuse from challenging male leaders) is wrong. To say “I don’t care” is profoundly insensitive and, especially for someone with a platform like Pete, immoral. That Rachel Held Evans applauded this post is even more sad, since she is also someone with a public platform, and she seems so happy that Pete has scored a point against TGC that she ignores Pete’s refusal to acknowledge that this conflict centers on TGC’s protection and unquestioned support of a powerful male church leader who oversaw and perhaps fostered an ecclesiological context in which dozens of children were sexually abused. Again, to those who say “I don’t care about this issue,” shame on you.

        • http://restoringpangea.com/ Nathan Smith


          Whatever is focused upon – SGM vs. theological differences – they are one and the same for this group given that the protection of their position at the expense of these children is based upon a community that promulgates shame.

          Hierarchical shame-based communities can’t be honest and leaders can’t make mistakes – primarily because of their view of God. So when they do make mistakes (because they always do) the God they’ve projected from their pulpits doesn’t fit in a world where they can do anything substantive about their own brokenness (until they’re caught).

          It’s not safe to be courageous and honest in these communities because the view of God they hold has capitalized on the community’s inherent shame and sent everyone in a direction that will never allow brokenness to be normalized. So when they get to the point of allowing this dynamic to effect whether or not they’ll break the law – they’ve committed themselves to this compounded communal shame and the view of God that supports it so much that it is almost impossible to be honest. The marginalized and vulnerable absorb the detriment and are scapegoated so that the community can continue to exist unfettered. Christian communities are not exempt from this by any means.

          • geoffrobinson

            Let’s hold on there. It seems Internet commenters like to jump ahead. Feel free to correct me where I’m wrong.

            Where did the Gospel Coalition do anything like you insinuate? My recollection is that they didn’t want to pre-judge the matter. They don’t have a team of investigators, they aren’t a denomination that exercises church discipline, and if you accuse someone wrongly you can’t un ring that bell.

            A lesson people on the Internet would be wise to heed.

          • Tat45

            Precisely why my pastor is unwilling as of yet to jump into the fray. He’s a frequent contributer to TGC, but he isn’t involved and has never made any public statements.

      • Bryan

        Perhaps the issue of sanctification pertained to where the alleged abusers were in their own sanctification process or lack thereof.

    • Chris

      I don’t think it’s fair to knock Pete here. For one, see Darryl’s comment below, which seems to resonate with the statements made by Tullian to CT, quoted above. Second, even if his leaving had something to do with SGM/Mahaney, the honest truth is that I don’t care, either. I mean, I hate child abuse, but I can do zero to help any of the victims there, nor does having strong feelings on the subject mean that I’m a better person for it. I — and presumably Pete — have little connection to the event, so it would seem odd for either of us to be emotionally connected to it.

  • Michael Hardin

    Excellent post Pete!

  • http://restoringpangea.com/ Nathan Smith

    The Phinehas comment really rings true with me. After reading James Dunn’s understanding of NT zealotry and how it’s based in Phinehas’s actions in Num. 25, it was so refreshing to see his take on how Paul’s zeal was very different.

    We have to read Pauline zeal in a completely different light than what was understood to be zeal in Num. 25. Paul’s transformed zeal means that we are to prioritize putting up with mistakes and doctrinal error in our community for the sake of church unity over and against putting up with sanctioned violence towards each other because of mistakes and doctrinal errors. “Zeal for each other over and against our positions rather than zeal for our positions over and against each other.”


  • VirginiaJeff

    Well and beautifully expressed.

  • http://evangelicalmorphodoxy.blogspot.co.uk Alan Molineaux

    There seems to be a reoccurring theme in these things. When you are ‘in’ the group you either applaud the removal of others or stay silent. When it happens to you it feels painful.

    It happened here in the UK with some Calvinist charismatics applauding the ‘farewelling’ of Rob Bell only to then feel aggrieved when given similar treatment by John MacArthur at his Strange Fire conference.

    It is about theology – most definitely. The tribalism displayed by the TGC seems to look for ways to exclude whilst the grace of the gospel looks for ways to include. When you believe, however, that before time God chose a tribe without any way of salvation being offered to the vast majority it is all too easy to feel that exclusion is a holy exercise.

    • Louie Martin

      I seem to disagree with your thoughts… In the first place, if TGC looks for ways to exclude than to include they never would have gotten to the place they are right now. I suggest that they are looking to INCLUDE those who have the same understanding of the Gospel. This may be wise since there has been in the past much of a departing from the pure, unadulterated Gospel. I think that it is not fair to say that they look for ways to exclude. It is judging the motives of the people involved in the organization. Just an opinion.

  • Animal

    Very well said.

  • http://www.davidbibee.com/ D.M. Bibee

    Tullian’s departure has much less (though, perhaps, in part) to do with the Sovereign Grace sexual abuse trial and Tullian’s critique of TGC for throwing their weight behind Mahaney before the facts were known, and more to do with differences over how justification relates to sanctification (with Tullian being called an antinomian, and Tullian insinuating that others are legalists for opposing his view of grace). It’s just all messy.

    • lmalone

      The timing for all of it sure was interesting. Just a coincidence, I guess.

    • pragmatic1

      Yes, a convenient coincidence.

  • http://anitamathias.com/ Anita Mathias

    “but maybe your departure is a blessing.”
    Interesting ambiguity in that phrase. Blessing to whom?

    • peteenns

      Good one :-) To Tullian.

  • http://thescripturesays.wordpress.com/ Josh

    Good post Pete. Thanks.

  • http://seandsmith.wordpress.com Sean Smith

    Lex orandi, lex credendi – what we pray (or practice) is what we believe. The TGC definitely has there hands on some twisted views of Christ and God. Very well said!

    • bob+++


  • ygcer

    Some of the statements in this article are quite irresponsible. To point out some:

    First, it is not true that souls are not being won or lost in this feud. it maybe true that the world is not watching. But in our world of instant connectivity and information, there are some unbelievers and atheists who are, some of whom are making ammunition out of it. And souls are being won or lost in the process.

    Second, what is wrong with being a modern-day Phinehas? The LORD Himself praised him, saying “Phinehas, son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned My anger away from the Israelites, for he was as zealeous as I AM for My honor among them, so that in My zeal, I did not put an end to them.” If you criticized the kind of zeal that the LORD Himself praised, does it not make you someone who criticizes God or at least someone who’s point of view is antithetical to God’s?

    • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

      “But in our world of instant connectivity and information, there are
      some unbelievers and atheists who are, some of whom are making
      ammunition out of it”

      You bet we are.

      • pragmatic1

        Kids raised on reformed theology and Calvinism become some of the most strident Atheists you’ll ever meet. They’ve been raised on conflict, tension, hypocrisy, division, etc. By 18, they want no part of the nonsense that their parents shoved down their throats from childhood on, and many of them dedicate their lives to speaking out against it.

        So thank you, Calvinistas. Thank you for helping us to realize that if there is an afterlife, we’d rather go to hell than be stuck in heaven with the likes of you.

        • reformedatheist


        • Bryan

          As a Christian, I have to say, “Very well said.”

    • Bryan

      If you can prove the following statement, “First, it is not true that souls are not being won or lost in this feud” then I would like to see the statistical data on this.
      Also, your use of Phinehas as a modern-day example of what is right in the world only demonstrates that you are about a few thousand pages away from being able to effectively engage in this discussion. Clearly, Jesus would have approved of Phinehas’ actions.

      • ygcer

        did you really read the article? and did you really understand my comment? i am all for Phinehas. READ “The LORD Himself praised him …”

        please READ and UNDERSTAND before you make unnecessary comments

        • Bryan

          Yes, I really did read the article and yes I did understand your comment and yes, I know you are for Phinehas. It is not unnecessary to challenge what you assume to be so self-evident. This pertains to violence in the OT and a NT Jesus who does not condone this. Nothing new under the sun here.

          It is problematic to extract this passage from a context in which violence is administered and apply it to a context in which doctrinal policing is the issue. The former example has absolutely nothing to do with “doctrinal integrity”, preserving it, defending it, and killing to justify it. This has quite a bit to do with tribalism, maintaining purity boundaries and identifying the “other” as the problem. Who would deserve the position of “Doctrinal Perfector” and carry out such an extreme measure that they would kill another person because their doctrine was somehow off? You? Why not anyone? Please read a few thousand more pages regarding the difficult union of OT and NT and supply a much better answer. A modern-day Phinehas is a very very bad example!

          • ygcer

            Not i, but the church, through a council of godly leaders who faithfully adhere to the teachings of the Scripture.

            And of course, no killings since we are not a theocracy unlike Israel in the OT.

            But the church, through the council of leaders, can rebuke and discipline a church member who is unrepentant of his beliefs and/or actions. Moreover, any believer can call the attention of another whose beliefs are swerving away from the essential teachings of the Scripture.

            By the way have you not noticed that through your comments, you are acting as a doctrinal perfector yourself? But of course you cannot kill other people whose beliefs are contrary to yours because we are no longer living in a theocratic state. Nevertheless, you are calling my attention to what you perceive to be an error in my theology.

          • Bryan

            …and since you are part of the church? Therefore, the Phinehas analogy does not work at all and there are no “essential” teachings as you suggest since no one can claim a privileged position within Christianity to do so. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox attempt to do so by way of history-as-argument approach.

            Please keep in mind that disagreement is not tantamount to “doctrinal perfection.” I have not discussed any doctrine on this post. It is completely unfruitful to suggest this because it does not get you anywhere. Simply cite what you disagree with and move
            on. I agree with the post on the belligerent stance, which can be characterized by some in the neo-reformed movement, particularly when it is consumed with policing and defending some sort of assumed privileged position that it cannot claim and does so in a de-humanizing way.

  • superbrr

    Peter, your tone and smugness in this article doesn’t seem to be much different than the folks you critique… it’s apparent you like to fight too. Not sure if you or anyone else caught that. Perhaps this is a trait of our (particularly online) generation, not just of the reformed.

    Another thought I had was if division in a church or denomination or group is the indicator of failed theology… which among us could stand? I believe sin and division is the result of broken humanity, not necessarily theology. I can’t find too many people in the Bible who walked with God that did everything perfect in their lives… or that we would even want to hold up as a shining example… can you?

    In any case, your taking advantage of your brothers’ misfortune in this situation to slam their theology and advance your agenda makes you look like a prick.

    • Bryan

      Your divine psychologism to intuit the author’s intentions “tone and smugness” is most unhelpful. This does not help to advance an argument at all. If you are suggesting that one cannot critique another’s argument on the basis that it will simply be a contradiction then you are far from the truth. Jesus challenged the theology of the Pharisees because it damaged and burdened the lives of Jews of that period. I am not suggesting a I’m-on-Jesus’-side-and-you’re-on-the-Pharisees’-side approach to this but I absolutely fail to see your point.

      Pete’s critique of the neo-reformed movement depicts it as “belligerent” (I agree) while leaving room for some who may not quite engage in it this way. He is not taking advantage of his misfortune but only indicating that with such a critical posture taken within this theological stance, he should not be surprised that the critical nature of this theology turned on him. Please keep in mind that the central issue here is the sexual abuse of little children and an alleged cover-up, most likely, so that those individuals who were indicted on these claims could most likely “keep preaching the gospel message.”

      What I do find to be extremely problematic in your post is your reference to Pete being a “prick”. Really? And you are trying to point out his shortcomings? If putting forth an agenda for a far less critical insider/outsider mentality is an issue for you, then I am all for it. Especially when that critical attitude is encapsulated in a theology that permits one to refer to another brother as a “prick”.

      • superbrr

        It wasn’t my theology that made me say Peter was acting like a prick. It was simply the fact that he is acting like a prick.

        Apparently others here seem to agree.

        • Bryan

          Again, this is where you misunderstand Pete and substitute being a “prick” for an honest critique. The problem is that your theology “permits” ad hominem attacks that do not promote any kind of charity to arrive at a meaningful and constructive dialogue. You do not seem to have room for disagreement without derogatory name-calling. Again, your theology allows for this.

    • Dean

      No, I think you’re wrong. There’s a difference between fighting to keep people out and fighting to tear the walls down, a difference between advocating “salvific stinginess” and preaching a “generous orthodoxy”. I’m tired of the false equivalence arguments, 90% of the time they’re not applicable and usually a sign that you are responding by intuition rather than assessing the true merits of a position.

  • The Thinking Commenter

    Second, theology proper is to blame here–”theology” as in how we understand God.

    I think this is a bit too broad of a brush. Benny Hinn is one of the biggest Christians of all time. What’s his theology and understanding of God? Get my point? Point being, who knows how many of “those in power” are flat out pretending.

    • Andrew Dowling

      Hinn was/is your typical prosperity huckster. Clearly if someone’s brand of Christianity consists of extravagant stadium concerts complete with the absurd theater of faith healings (in worst of all, a purple suit), shows that the nut is not following far from the theological (or lack of) tree.

      • The Thinking Commenter

        Okay yeah it’s easy to tell who is pretending by recognizing them by their fruits. Or their hairdresser! Good thing the only people who ever heard of the “recognize them by their fruits” type of verses are the very people who can be recognized by their fruits! They don’t know how to read those verses! Very poor readers.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Reformed(TM) theology…
    Truly Reformed(TM)…

    AKA “Who needs Christ when you have CALVIN! CALVIN! CALVIN! CALVIN! CALVIN!”

    • geoffrobinson

      Do you actually listen to Reformed messages? How much do you think they mention Jesus vs Calvin?

  • Tony Huy

    I think it would be helpful to provide clear examples of how a certain theology leads to a certain practice, rather than make broad statements. I’m not sure it works logically to say “Because situation A is going on and the people involved in situation A believes theology B, then theology B is to blame.” So statements like this don’t seem to provide much clarity and instead furthers stereotyping.

    “Tullian, whatever is going on at TGC, you can bet your bottom dollar it has everything to do with theology. It is, in fact, a right, proper, and wholly consistent expression of that theology. I’m a bit surprised you don’t see that, but maybe your departure is a blessing.”

    Is it true that holding to spiritual gifts is a direct line to preaching a prosperity gospel? Of course not. Are most prosperity gospel preachers charismatic in leanings. yes. But someone has to show what about charismatic theology leads you directly to prosperity gospel preaching to claim there’s a connection. Broad stroking it is unfair and unhelpful.

    So I’m honestly curious, for all who say “reformed theology” leads to this type of bickering and attacking, what is the direct line of connection? Is it the theology or the people? It seems to me there’s plenty attack here from non-reformed, plenty of walls and fighting.

    • Paul Janssen

      One way that a certain theology leads to a certain practice lies in how many of the “young, restless, reformed” folks understand Scripture, Truth, and God. If God is a God of all truth (truth, that is, as understood as a bounded and unchanging set of propositions and dogmas about the world and God) and reveals God’s own self sufficiently and normatively (and exclusively) within those Scriptures, you will find this group of folks using the method of “proof texting” with the Scriptures. Ironically, what this does is to treat the life of the text as ‘in front of’ the text, because propositions about God that are assumed to be true are buttressed by texts, based on how well a plain reading of those texts will offer warrant for those propositions. (The method of argument is essentially both circular in its logic, and disrespectful of the text in its appication) If the whole thing were nothing more than a mind-game, well, who cares? But where the rubber hits the road – in the third mark of the church, discipline – lives are trampled under by proof-texting and “applying” Scripture like a caustic ointment. Further, the method of ‘proof texting’ is brought to other sources, whether those context-free sources are used in support of the ideology of the young/restless/reformed, of whether those context-free sources are used to bolster the theological presuppositions of the predominant mindset. Thus, the way the y/r/r folks understand Scripture, Truth, and God, yields ultimately with a violent way of treating those who believe differently. That’s my opinoin, anyway.

    • KentonS

      Charismatic theology does not automatically lead to prosperity gospel. That’s not the claim here. The analogous claim would be to say that those who preach a prosperity gospel believe in a materialistic God. In other words the theology that starts with “God wants stuff* and doesn’t care what it takes to get it” ends up with those who believe it trying to get stuff without questioning the means.

      (*The rhetoric is usually that “God wants US to have stuff”. It’s an arguable distinction, but I think it’s a hairsplit.)

      So the direct line is that we imitate the God/gods we worship. Is it the theology or the people? That’s actually a good question. I would say people develop the theology to justify their actions, so on a certain level they’re indistinguishable.

  • AJ DeCou

    Interesting, great point but it seems you end short of making a helpful contribution to the discussion. Yes, theology may be at the heart of this issue. But so what? Where is the call to action? How should I think differently about this matter?

    • http://abipwu.blogspot.com Melissia

      It’s quite apparent what the helpful contribution is– to reiterate it in my usual crude way, his message amounted to “stop being an asshole and trying to exclude people for the sake of being exclusive”.

      Or to quote the article itself:

      “Whether or not we are even aware of it, how we act reflects what we deeply believe. In fact, as Christians, there is no truer measure of what we really believe God is like, deep down, the God that really drives us and energizes us, our life source, than how quickly we feel the need to erect walls and continually narrow the boarders[sic] of who is in and who is out.”

    • Dr_Phaedrus

      Just because someone yells “Fire!” does not mean that they are qualified to fight the fire or direct others on how to do so. Bringing something to the attention of others is a ministry in its own way. Maybe that’s all that was accomplished here or meant to be.

  • Mike S

    While it is certainly true that there is a danger of projection which is involved in our theology proper, that seems to be a knife which cuts both ways. To keep with the Lewis theme – the Lion is not safe, but he is good. To say that one’s desire to fight means that one perceives that characteristic in God is no different than saying if I one believes in love over judgment that God is therefore the same way. It is true, but it does not seem to me like you have actually said anything. If your point is to cause people to consider their own prejudges, perhaps this is helpful. But I personally found it rather flat even to do that.

    And I am not sure that this a “Reformed” problem as much as it is a fundamentalist problem. The fundamentalist mentality has always been one of belligerence, which has no choice but to eventually turn on its own. The fundamentalist mentality certainly grew in America outside of Reformed theology and exists outside of the Reformed branch of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism (and belligerency) does not seem to me to be integral aspect of Reformed theology. Perhaps one could argue that fundamentalism has been made worse with the resurgence of Reformed theology, but that does not seem to be Enns argument. It sounds too much like Reformed theology is to blame for what is already present in fundamentalism. In other words, if the argument is going to be that the well is poisoned, perhaps the real poison has been missed.

    • Daniel Merriman

      As a lifelong (non-fundamentalist) Baptist living in a region where all sorts of Baptists are thick on the ground, this dispute seems indistinguishable from the variety of food fights that I’ve observed among the “Fighting Fundamentalist” Baptists over the years. They just can’t seem to form lasting coalitions among themselves.

      I find it telling that Keller and TT are members of the PCA. The PCA has disciplinary procedures to deal with false teaching. Why not use them instead of behaving like a bunch of Baptists?

  • Chris Van Allsburg

    Dear Dr. Enns,

    Thanks for the challenge to have a godly attitude of humility when it comes to the theological task. I don’t expect a man of your calibre to hold in disregard a fine-tuned theology. Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps you are content with more of a Mere Christianity. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this, please. I’d also like to know your thoughts about the role of apologetics. Reading this article makes me wonder if the comments you’ve noted about “finding a fight” speak to your views on the necessity of apologetics? I work on a college campus, and I’ve seen the benefits of apologetics, but I also know that without humility, it’s a rather vain task (1 Cor. 13). Do you think apologetics is necessarily a part of this “finding a fight” of which you speak? If so, what does that mean for the task of the church? (I do realize you are critiquing ‘in house’ debates on theology here, but I’m wondering if this extends to the task of apologetics and evangelism). Thank you.

    • Brian P.

      Would make one comment on this. I personally know lots of deconverts who know their apologetics very well and apologetics was influential, if not instrumental, in their personal stories and deconversion processes. I’ve yet to see any unbiased studies on this. I would think that “both sides” principally see their own successes as the predominant case studies. Beyond what is just Dr Enns very informed position, I’d be very interested in what the data say.

  • John S.

    Of course the attitude continues in “noncombative” theologies as well. Rather than “contend for the truth” the assumption is those who don’t get it aren’t worth it and can be summarily dismissed as being of little concern. Tribalism is still rife.

  • Bob Robinson

    It is indeed sad that some Christians feel that in order to be faithful, they must be in conflict. It’s doubly sad, because someone as gifted as Don Carson could use that giftedness in so many wonderful ways instead of always pointing out how everyone else is so wrong.

  • Nick Kersten

    Step right up, everyone. There’s enough rocks and unbroken glass (in your home and everyone else’s) to go around.


  • Phil Hodson

    Pete the Protestant, me thinks thou protesteth with a telling vigor. Are we pretendin your fightin days are done? Nah, you been a tellin what we aint since I been knowin you, and you is a lightnin bolt of a fighter still. I hate the fightin too, but even fightin fightin is still fightin. I just wish you weren’t fightin some of the things you are a fightin these days. But I’ve just been a watchin, and I’m still a thankin, for the learnin, you know, the provokin, and stimulatin, at the institution, where you were a gradin and I was a prayin. But hold your writins up, and do some self orientin, for as hope springs eternal thou also protesteth perpetual, having your own peeves to pet. Say it isn’t so!

  • Michael

    I stopped reading after this gem…

    “First, the resurgence of Reformed theology in American evangelicalism and fundamentalism–commonly referred to as the Neo-Reformed movement–is a belligerent movement. This is why it exists–to correct others, not to turn the spotlight inward. There are exceptions within, of course, and I am by no means suggesting everyone who sees him or herself as part of this movement exhibits this tendency. But the “system” is set up to fight. It’s what they do.”

    Nope, no sweeping generalizations to be found here. I’m sure the rest of your article was as fair and logical as this paragraph. I have no doubt you set a field of trembling strawmen aflame in your wake of unbiased commentary.

    • Hamrick

      I agree with Michael here. You are using this article as an attack against Reformed Theology, when the argument between Tullian and TGC is mainly on his view of sanctification.

      • derektaylor

        It’s also about the right of an organization to make personnel decisions. CG made a personnel decision here – yet Pete and a few others want to read some massive conspiracy into this. The real folks with the pitchforks and high pitched rhetoric are not over at GC, from what I can tell – they are right here on Patheos.

        • Bryan

          Critiquing theology does not put a pitchfork in hand. If so, Jesus is guilty as well.

      • Jeff Y

        That may be their argument. But, Enns is noting that this is the inevitable problem with Reformed Theology. It is not an attack as much as an observation; a truism. Reformed Theology is legalistic and uncompromising. It holds its beliefs in a tight fisted manner, not with an open hand – it cannot do otherwise because it is its own creed (intramural arguments notwithstanding).

        This discussion reminds me of Jesus and the Pharisees. The Pharisees were ostracizing others from their coterie of beliefs; Jesus embraced those that were ostracized. He took the Pharisees to task for their lack of openness and inability to see their own sin (Lk. 7, 10, 15, 18, etc.). There is a difference between Pete who is open and those who rigidly adhere to a 16th Century Theology. One cannot be open to critiques about Reformed Theology – and remain Reformed. One can be open to critiques about the Bible and Reformed ideas and Arminianism, etc. and remain a gospel-centered Christian, however. The defense above and below of TGC misses the point. It is not a conspiracy. It’s an observation about the very nature of such creedalism. There’s no getting round that part.

        • Hamrick

          That’s not what Reformed Theology was about. Reformed Theology is about a high view of God and His glory.

          There is an open-mindedness that leads to a deeper understanding of God and His word, and there is an open-mindedness that leads to universalism and denying sin needs to be repented of.

          In the first sense, I would consider myself open minded, but I do not want to be accused of being open minded in the latter sense.

          • David Randall

            All orthodox theology is about having a “high view of God and His glory”. You tend to make the author’s point by implying that that if you aren’t “reformed”, you must be a universalist and deny a need for repentance. There are those who tend to see God more fully glorified by a free human response, than by a repentance which is foreignly introduced and one is powerless to resist.

          • Hamrick

            Did I imply it? Because I didn’t think I did.

            Ephesians 1 tends to say God was glorified because He chose us in Him.

            “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined usb for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

            In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guaranteed of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

            Ephesians 1:4-14.

    • Bryan

      To start off, there is no such thing as being unbiased, as your own position demonstrates. Also, this is not a “sweeping generalization”, as you suggest, when the caveat, “There are exceptions within, of course, and I am by no means suggesting
      everyone who sees him or herself as part of this movement exhibits this
      tendency” is issued, it should then be obvious that when universal terms are avoided such as “all”, “everyone”, “the entire world”, etc., is not used, it is not a “sweeping generalization.”

      • pmkeating

        By that logic, if I say that, “women are bad drivers,” I’m not generalizing because I didn’t say, “ALL women are bad drivers.” It is certainly a generalization! You can argue that it’s accurate – not all generalizations are incorrect – but you cannot credibly argue that it’s not a generalization simply because an adverb is absent.

        • Bryan

          You could not be more wrong in your analysis. “All” is not an adverb due to the fact that it is modifying “women” in your sentence. Therefore, it is an adjective but also irrelevant to the construction of english grammar in meaningfully suggesting a universal statement. It is irrelevant because you do not need to qualify your statement with the use of the word “all” to make it a broad-sweeping generalization. By stating that “women are bad drivers”, you have already established a universal statement, i.e. a broad-sweeping generalization that requires no further qualitative description, hence, this is a non-sequitur.

          It is quite clear that there absolutely was no generalization, as you suggest, as the following statement clearly nullifies any such conclusion: “There are exceptions within, of course, and I am by no means suggesting everyone who sees him or herself as part of this movement exhibits this tendency.”

          Perhaps you are part of the latter (the exception) and wish to exclude yourself from the former. That is good.

          • pmkeating

            thanks for the grammar correction; you must be a belligerent fellow who likes to “correct others rather than turn the spotlight inward.”

            It is not a requirement that generalizations apply to 100.0% of a population. “Idaho produces good potatoes” is a generalization but doesn’t imply that there isn’t a single bad potato in the whole state.

            I can tell you like to argue so you can have the last word.

          • Bryan

            If you could construct a coherent argument I would not have had to correct you. Perhaps what we should do is proceed with your own logic and let anything signify anything else because you can’t accept the fact that you can’t tell the difference between an adverb and an adjective in order to make your case. That way one can say anything and no one should ever offer a contrary conclusion because clearly the only conclusion is that they are belligerent. Jesus was quite belligerent on that note.

            A generalization is just that, a universal statement. Therefore, the potato analogy still does not work. You are using more of a colloquialism when stating this. I can only assume that nobody would think something as absurd as Idaho never producing a bad potato. But if somebody said, “Women are stupid,” then any woman within earshot would assume you meant “her”. The point of this was to demonstrate that the post did leave room for exceptions without a firmly established rule.

            Maybe next time when you post something that is incoherent, I’ll just remind myself to never disagree because then I will be “belligerent” as you have affirmed your “rightness” on all matters.

  • http://readingscripture.org Ron Henzel

    Yet another volley of rhetorical rage and imperious insinuation from a guy who claims that anger is other people’s problem—primarily the people who disagree with him.

    • Klasie Kraalogies

      And now you are yet another guy that delivers a volley……

  • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

    I think this is less about theology than personality type. Some people, be they atheists or Christians or Muslims or Hindus, are fundamentalist/absolutist by nature. These kind of people don’t do well with ambivalence or mystery, or understand the vast limitation of our knowledge and thus a proper humility.

    • Andrew Dowling

      “I think this is less about theology than personality type. Some people,
      be they atheists or Christians or Muslims or Hindus, are
      fundamentalist/absolutist by nature.”

      ?? But some theologies embrace a fundamentalist paradigm of looking at the world . . thus attracting more of those “personality types”

      • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

        I think that’s a fair point, Andrew. But in the post-modern world we live in, a commitment to truth is somewhat of an aberration. Looking at theological debates in the history of the Church and in Western history in general, finds that many different types of perspectives have absolutist defenders. In an age of relativism, it seems that being a bit too determined a defender of truth as one sees it is just not cool. Socrates could relate.

        • http://aldaily.com/ Justin L. Conder

          Good points Mike. Truth may be absolute, but there is no way for humans to have full access to it. Believers that claim they have absolute truth have alot of hubris. And truth is not “out there,” like “good” or “evil,” it is a metaphysical concept, not a *thing* at all. It’s a description of how we treat information. For centuries people treated untruths about human medicine as a fixed focal point of knowledge. We now believe they were wrong, because we have access to more information. Does that mean we believe all the current knowledge of human medicine is complete and “really, truly true?” This sort of moving target of truth is the reality we have to live with. The pretense that we have the whole truth in our back pocket makes us look, speak, and act quite silly. Even with the hard sciences, truth as a concept is less useful than theories, models, etc. I also happen to believe that faith, at its best, can show a humble way forward of affirming values we hold as true while having the humility to hold them with an open hand. Personalities that prefer rock solid truths to slam against their ideological opponents almost invariably crave certainty, order, and stability over grace, compassion, and empathy. They want to be right, and pummel the opposition into submission with the hammer of the truth. Think about how many hard line, uber-conservative Christians become the most bitter and infatuated atheists. They really haven’t changed all that much – they’ve just replaced one set of rigid dogmas with one organized around opposing it. That’s not everyone’s experience, but its common enough to take note of. On the other hand, many people have doubt and faith in their minds at the same time, and struggle with how to make it all fit together. Being honest about that struggle makes a healthy faith community. Finding comfort in uncertainty and strength in doubt is the first step to a better form of faith. For Christians, it might help to consider the words of Albert Schweitzer: “Each successive epoch found its own thoughts in Jesus, which was, indeed, the only way in which it could make him live.” We can either celebrate the diverse ways Christians have approached Jesus over the years, or pretend that only one way is correct and we just happen to subscribe to it.

          • http://engagetheculture.org/ Mike D’Virgilio

            These are some very good and mature thoughts, Justin. I have a hard time with people who have no doubt about what they believe, that they among all people are privy to the entirety of truth about a thing, anything. That’s why I initially talked about personality and how much our personalities tend to determine our theology. I learned that from the very first Christian book I ever read back in 1978, Knowing God by J.I. Packer. This claim of his has been borne out by my experience in a lot of ways over the years. But the more trust you have in God the less trust you have to put in your own certainty. Yet we can never let such humility slip into relativism. There is such a thing as truth, or as Francis Schaeffer put it, true truth. Even though Paul didn’t have a systematic theology to rely on, he was very adamant about some things. Just read Galatians. So whoever can recite the Nicene and Apostles Creeds and believes that Jesus is Lord and Savior, we’re all on the same team.

          • Roger Marshall

            Some great insights here Justin. My favourite verse in this regard is “Now we see in a glass darkly”. Believing that the Scriptures are inerrant does not mean that our interpretation is inerrant. Calvinists in particular, and therefore the GC movement, often seem to dismiss and/or combat anti-calvinist or non-calvinist views as being anti-biblical.

      • Steven Knudsen


    • Steven Knudsen

      we are limited and sometimes made aware of this in painful fashion. But I will still use logical tools to learn more about these controversies, and apply them to our choices with church and family!

  • Clive Lee

    a professor i had used to say, some philosophers gather, and other philosophers scatters. something similar can be said of theologians. some distinguish while others unite. we may need to do one or the other at various times.

    • Steven Knudsen

      showing discernment, that rare jewel!

  • Stuart C. Hancock

    When I read the Christian Post article, I was alarmed, since it painted a portrait of the unfair persecution of a Reformed pastor by a group (GC) that I respect. However, since then I’ve read a number of responses to Tchividjian’s writings (and the writings themselves) going back well over a year, as those within the Coalition and without have challenged his articles on the topic of sanctification. This is very much an issue having to do with theology and not personal animosity, though you wouldn’t know it from the Christian Post or Peter Enns articles. I recommend that anyone who is interested in what is really going on with this issue do a little research before drawing any hasty conclusions.

    • DB

      I agree with Stuart. Tullian’s “One way love” theology and his view of sanctication is at the heart of the issue. The personal issues can be resolved in other proper ways.

  • http://aldaily.com/ Justin L. Conder

    Most of the criticisms of TGC I’ve heard are valid, especially considering the abuse of children involved in this situation. That kind of red flag deserves a swift and uncompromising response – the very thing you’d think that TGC folks would be good at. But I will say a good word about the Neo-Reformed and their theology. I’ve done my fair share of criticizing that movement. But in the interest of fairness, I’d just highlight a few of its positive fruits: It has prompted otherwise intellectually unengaged Christians to focus more on church history. It has exposed how theology and doctrine are not just vague intangible affirmed beliefs to be checked off so that we can go to the after church pot luck – theology is only important if its implications are lived out (in the Reformed case, some of those implications aren’t so great, but still . . .). It has renewed the self-awareness of Protestants. Last, it has done some good (if not always graceful) work of questioning some of the more insane prosperity gospel messages. I think some of that work needed to be done – and while it has been done as well or better by Christians from other backgrounds, the Reformed revival has assisted in that capacity. As brittle and pugnacious as some in the Reformed movement can be, I think anti-intellectualism is a root cause of much of the maladies of evangelical America – and they are, in the main, opposed to that. (Mark Driscoll notwithstanding.) I remember reading Mark Noll nearly 15 years ago now, and I think some progress has been made. Its hard to gauge, but I definitely sense an intellectual shift of focus. And like it or not, I think the Reformed movement can be given some credit for that . . . even though too often their grim solution is to replace a mindless faith with heartless one.

    • Stacey Hunter

      That’s not the grim solution of the Reformed Movement, but of humans who err. We are all often heartless, whether it looks like it from your perspective or not.

      • http://aldaily.com/ Justin L. Conder

        I wouldn’t quarrel with you in saying we are often heartless as human beings. My specific comment was that Reformed theology can lead to a grim, heartless view of God and salvation that has corroding effects on our approach to morality. For example, ideas like unconditional election make the ultimate fate of humans a predetermined conclusion. One result of that belief can be a fatalistic worldview with a pathological obsession with signs of purity and righteousness, as proof of being one of the elect. Exhibit A: 17th Century Puritans. Theology doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Beliefs about God affect how we treat other people and view our own actions.

    • Steven Knudsen

      Thanks, I can’t wait to (try to) get to the bottom of the child treatment issues raised by this article!

  • gimpi1

    “Whether or not we are even aware of it, how we act reflects what we deeply believe.”

    Thank you. I’ve said this for years. Your real religion is what you do, not what you say you believe.

    • Bryan

      Very well said. A call for orthopraxy is clearly in view here.

    • Stacey Hunter

      I think the Bible says it is actually both, not one or the other…what we say is very important.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Oh, Peter is right. As someone who emerged from a fundamentalist sect only to spend 7 odd years in the Reformed world, I can attest to the fact that with some exceptions there is little difference. The Calvinistas often remind of a colleague I once had, who was never happy unless he was unhappy. Unhappy for Calvinists is when the are discovering heresy, putting up walls and excommunicatin’. I was there, I experienced it. Early 1999 to end 2006. The theology is a problem. The problem. Because for a large part of them, you are not saved by grace through faith, but by believing in the fact that you are saved by grace through faith. The object of their faith are doctrinal statements.

    • Bryan

      Its good to hear from someone who has had the real-life experience to bring to the table. From what I gather here, most have interpreted this post as only a broad sweeping generalization of the neo-reformed movement with no exceptions to the rule. However, there are serious issues here and I find it extremely difficult to dismiss the idea that theology did not play a role here.

    • Steven Knudsen

      “but by believing in the fact that you are saved by grace through faith”
      – I see that — interesting — explains a lot! Good insight!

  • http://cosmostheinlost.com/ Artur Sebastian Rosman

    There’s a reason why Catholic and Protestant scandals will always be structurally different:


  • Kathryn Helmers

    A comment on all the comments here: why are so many Christians so engaged in and activated by their own infighting? Just think, they could spend that energy on going to a baseball game, instead.

    • Steven Knudsen

      baseball sounds cool. Just so you know, I have to investigate this, because it impacts how I raise my children, what church I attend, etc.

  • James

    The Evangelical Camp of the Christian faith can be criticized rightly for lack of delegated authority. What is the EC anyway? Likewise, the Neo-Reformed movement–is there a command post somewhere to whom we may address concerns? I guess TGC has identifiable leaders, and members may be affirmed or sanctioned according to constitution and bylaws. So where does this put us who comment on these organizations real or posited? On a deck with other loose canons firing off in all directions? Best to anchor our guns on the Good Ship Grace and point them at the enemy, not each other. But isn’t warfare the wrong analogy?

  • Frank Sonnek

    my understanding of the word “Gospel” is when supernatural faith trust supernaturally in Christ as the only Shield when we plead to God to avert his wrath over my own sin that deserves temporal and eternal punishmentt. I understand law to be whatever accuses us and terrifiess us and reduces ALL we are and ALL we do, even as believers in our flesh to the righteousness that are the equivalent of the used tampon st isaiah describes even a belivers righteousness as being.
    Facts: When i read kevins blog, it is always about trying harder to DO the Law, and usually that DOing is getting our heart and motive right. so… Judging motives is a huge deal right?
    But more importantly, out of 20 posts…or more… Maybe one will mention something about what Christ did to save us. Christ comes to us in two ways: As Example and as Savior. Christ as Example is accusing Law. Christ as our ONLY shield against Gods wrath? and supernatural faith that actually USES Christ alone before God? GOSPEL! The proportion in Kevins poats? About 98% law. 2% gospel.
    You can reverse that ratio for Tullian.
    Now, before you tell me i am criticizing Kevin with no basis in fact do this: Look at the last 40 posts of Kevin. In how many of those is the Gospel the main point and law serves gospel?
    So why the “gospel” in “gospel coalitin”?
    Then do the same with tullians posts. Aha. Its about doctrine, and not just about sanctification. Ita about Christ as Example vs Christ as Savior.

  • Curious Christian


    Quick question. Why do you say here you’re not interested in this specific issue but yet you are posting (nearly daily) on anything at all related to Mars Hill Church? What mission are you trying to accomplish by fueling that fire? It appears by the frequency of your posts that you’re using that to bring in page views.

    Let me know please.

    Curious Christian

    • Steven Knudsen

      to anyone who has children and attends a reformed church, it is critical to know how their child-rearing theory really works in practice

  • Robert Blake

    I think the author needs to take his own advice in this post. It seems he has lost sight as well, when he finishes his blog post with a hurtful and distracting jab at Tullian. Way to not see the log in your own eye as you take up the issue of being a critic.

    • peteenns

      Robert, please. You see a log in my eye here? For what it’s worth, Tullian and I have been in correspondence since I posted this blog, at his initiative, and he is deeply appreciative and supportive of what I say. If my reference to “blessing” is throwing you, I mean it is a blessing to Tullian for being free of TGC.

      • Robert Blake

        Yes, the very thing you chastise in this article, you pretty much do on this blog. You have your own set of presuppositions you defend and argue. Then you must be like that set of flawed Theology then(I believe every person has flawed theology). I found Tullian’s apology a much deeper and profound truth on the sin of pride. That is what we are dealing with, not Theology in itself. That is merely a manifestation of a far deeper issue. And sure enough, every leader in the bible we see has a serious sin problem. So do our very own leaders today. But, we know God is in the business of redemption and restoration as the bible is packed full of it.
        I think your comment on this would strike less prideful and I have got this all figured out if you spoke of how your own prideful Theology has caused division and problems. That would have been far more instructive and looking at the log in your own eye before digging in on other’s problems. So I ask you that, has your own belief system created problems with others? We all know that answer.
        And look deeper at the responses to your article, does it drive people to the unity of the church? Or does it cause more division and separation? Should we joyfully cheer when something in our body is wrong and hurting? No, of course not. If my toe is stubbed my whole body responds with that pain. Because it is one body. The church is one body, when a part is broken or hurting we all are, or should be. Not sitting back and pointing out that if the toe had stayed in a different shoe it would never have been stubbed.

        • Michael Sears

          Amen Robert… Well said.

  • RoyJ
  • Dave McCarthy

    2 Cor 4:2 Renounce/denounce underhanded ways. Its that simple. Tullian seems less distorted by the narcissism present in TGC.

    Some of this should be more private but it seems Tullian did talk with them first behind the scenes with his questions. I care less about their theologies and more about their qualifications to be pastor-teachers at this point. Spin is not one of those qualifications.

    We should realize that the arguments now have splintered into a theo-logical vs. emotional-relational. These cannot be put up against each other directly. We ask what started this mess… I think it was the poor choices of sinful people in relationship, not a logical-theological decision to separate.

  • Guest

    I think it’s rather appalling that the discussion here is over individuals and not over what the Bible says. What is our infallible, inerrant source of knowing God? The Bible. What is there to care about the actions of men when the Bible states that we are all sinners (Romans 3:23). Is this a surprise? But we are to love our friends and enemies (Matt. 19:19) and point them to the truth of God (Acts 20:7), primarily Christ Jesus (John 14:6). I do not care for your opinion about theology, I care about what God says about Himself, given fully to us through the Bible (2 Peter 1:3). Please read 1 Corinthians 4:6 and do not seek any theology apart from what is revealed from His Word.

    • http://aldaily.com/ Justin L. Conder

      And if one Christian’s interpretation of the Bible is different from yours, what then? If two people are trying to follow the teachings of a text that they both agree is authoritative, but come to different conclusions – how do we determine who is right? And I’m not talking about liberal or mainline, Catholic, or Orthodox Christians disagreeing. I’m talking about true-blue, born again, evangelical Christians.

      For example, many “Bible-believing,” inerrantist Christians have opposing views on: infant baptism, premillenial/postmillenial, Arminian/Calvinist, the ethics of war/revolution, cessationist/charismatic, and even concepts of the atonement, etc., etc. Some of these are important theological differences that affect how we live and worship. . . among committed, conservative, inerrantism affirming churches. This is the problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism. The fact is, many Christians who *want* to derive their theology *only* from what God spoke clearly through the Bible (sola scriptura) still manage to disagree with one other on all sorts of important theology. Not minor preferences. . . theology. Which means even if someone agrees with you about deriving theology purely from the Bible, they’re still bound to disagree with you on what the Bible says on that theology. If you happen to know the one correct, clear interpretation of the theological issues I brought up, please take the opportunity to clarify it for the rest of us mere mortals.

      • bob+++


    • Steven Knudsen

      when you have children, or your children grow older, you may change your tune. We have found that it is very subtle how to apply biblical teaching to child-rearing. Apologies in advance for judging your age — your picture looks young

  • irish03gator

    If all christians would just understand that we are all “interpreting” the scriptures. Hence, they thousands of denominations that are out there. No one has exclusive, definitive truth on all matters and its that type of thinking that makes Christians belligerent, unloving, and divisive. Reformers/Calvinists/fundamentalists all seem to share these traits in my view, as I was one of them myself years ago. Once I got my mind opened up to the fruitlessness of it all, and just began to see unconditional love and forgiveness as the foundation of a life in Christ, it has given me more joy, peace and grace with myself, as well as with others who I don’t agree with.

    • Sara

      Amen! Everyone thinks they got it figured out based on their own relationship with God. We humans are so prideful. Thank God for amazing grace.

  • Michael Sears

    I find it funny how you in one breath besmirch fighting and in your very next breath call the reformed movement belligerent (them’s fighting words IMO). Anyone who reads Tullian Tchividjian and understands him cannot conclude that the God he imagines is any of those things. Theology is a belief system, there is nothing inherently wrong with theology and taking a stand for what you believe. Which you do too regardless whether or not you acknowledge it. Tullian’s problem is the same as yours… he is a sinner, and often does not act godly in all that he does, especially when his beliefs about the Gospel (The most important truth in human life) and how it motivates us are being attacked.

    • JC O’Dwyer

      I couldn’t agree more with this comment. The “Mean People Suck” mentality of theological liberals is every bit as ungracious and unkind as anything that you hear from the young, restless and Reformed crowd.

  • Phil Baucom

    There are a lot of very broad brushes in here, painting over statements of much belligerence.
    A happy Calvinist that doesn’t go around knifing people

  • slufi

    I don’t often agree with Peter Enns. But when I do, I repost: ” the resurgence of Reformed theology in American evangelicalism and fundamentalism–commonly referred to as the Neo-Reformed movement–is a belligerent movement.”

  • Dan

    “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” ~Jude

    Yeah, the way that plays out matters, and I agree with some of his points, but it seems that Enns is so enamored by this culture of tolerance, as the greatest virtue, that he’s ceased to care about the issues of what Paul called “of first importance.” At least that’s what I took from his attitude in this article. Yes, he’s looking from the inside out, but I hope he’s willing to enter the mess again one day and join the Bride that Jesus loves, instead of cynically mocking from the peanut gallery on patheos.

  • Steven Knudsen

    Peter –

    Hack, ack! Yes it does matter for the gospel. People, a lot of people, know who Keller and Tullian Tchvidijian* are, and they get spiritual sustenance from their books and sermons. I would not have known about the dust-up unless you had spoken of it, but I am glad I know now, and I am also concerned about how church leaders deal with child discipline/abuse. I’d much rather know about issues of the church, not so I can be judgmental, but so I can be discerning. We have had problems in parenting, and have found that a lighter approach works wonders for family peace rather than stern discipline.

    *sorry, the last name is too much for me, but I was able to cut an paste it!!!!

  • http://facebook.com/leah.birkenbach Leah

    Jesus is the Prince of Peace because He Himself reconciles men to God, making peace between God and man with the blood of His cross, but He made enemies whenever He opened his mouth (which is why they crucified Him and those who He fed in the crowd left Him when their bellies were full and He started sharing the truth) I understand there is a line between being obnoxious and being lovingly bold, but there is also a line between being divisive and Biblically *discerning*.
    “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” – Matthew 10:34-39
    Jesus said that there would be self-deceived people in the church, it’s more loving to spur others on to make sure they aren’t one of those who still say “Lord, Lord…” than to assume that everyone who professes to be saved actually is. Jesus said,
    “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” -Matthew 7:21-23

    When lives are at stake because the truth is taken lightly in this cultural Christianity that people think they inherit, reform is necessary. That’s how we have Protestant Christianity. The church is *built* on the blood of Christ and generations of martyrs who said what was unpopular and controversial to be an instrument of God to refine the church from impurities. Study church history. No true believer can look at American Christianity and say that no purging is needed. The Bible is clear, Jesus has spoken that there will always be tares among the wheat, wolves among the sheep, and a good gardener, who models after the Gardener, a good shepherd so models himself after the Good Shepherd will do all in his power to imitate his Heavenly Father in warning the sheep about the wolves. Paul did it in his letters, and inspired by the Holy Spirit, instructed us to imitate him as He imitated Christ. Remember also that those in authority must give an account and be held to a higher level of scrutiny “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” James 3:1

    Let’s stop a moment and marvel at the truth which we once did not have access to in our common language if not for those pestering martyrs that laid their lives down to be burned for us to know (I think the Scriptures I’m about to quote get to the heart of this matter behind the author of this article)…
    “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” -Ephesians 2:8-11
    “For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” – 1 Peter 1:20-21 Jesus was foreknown in the intimate sense by the Father! And in the same way,
    “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren”
    -Romans 8:29
    Capitalized text is Old Testament quotes, for those who might now know :) ….
    “For this is contained in Scripture:
    7This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve,
                THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone,”
                for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to thisdoom they were also appointed.
          9But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royalPRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.” -1 Peter 2:6-9

    “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” -Jude 1:24-25

  • http://aebrain.blogspot.com Zoe_Brain

    …fundamentally hacked off, retributive, touchy, demanding of theological
    precision, uncompromising, takes-no-prisoners-and-gives-no-quarter,
    whose wrath needs to be appeased so watch your step.

    In other words, an asshole.

    But being God, don’t ever call Him that. He’s a loving, kind god, and if you say any different, he’ll get angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. He’ll smite you, your children, your neighbours, your nation, and random people all over the planet, in his mercy.

    Yes, well, that might be true. But he’s still an asshole.

  • glennoftherock

    I wonder if Mr. Enns will reconsider some of his “fighting words” as one commentator rightly called his article, after the recent resignation of Tullian due to getting caught in adultery. Is it possible it all Mr. Enns that those rigid, Reformed guys were exercising gifts of wisdom and discernment when they asked Tullian to leave TGC?

    • peteenns

      Oh my. You are glorying in a man’s period of darkness. You should be ashamed of yourself.