A Coalition or A Channel?

A Coalition or A Channel? March 6, 2015

Over at Jesus Creed, David George Moore wonders about the boundaries of The Gospel Coalition. Moore is particularly concerned about why Tim Keller gets a pass (as opposed to Marc Driscoll):

I find it perplexing why John Piper has no regrets for Mark Driscoll being invited to speak for the ministry of Desiring God. To Piper’s credit, he wishes he had been a better friend to Driscoll. I continue to have questions about how the Driscoll implosion was handled by the Gospel Coalition, but that is not what I want to address. Rather, it is something which seems more endemic among the Gospel Coalition: the penchant to either not answer valid criticisms and/or marginalize those who raise serious concerns. I will offer a specific for each starting with the last first. Carl Trueman used to be one of the most quoted people on blogs and twitter accounts sympathetic to the Gospel Coalition. Now his name rarely comes up. If you don’t pay attention to these sorts of things it is because of Carl’s writings on Ref 21 and in First Things where he detailed his own concerns about the ways in which the Gospel Coalition seemed to mishandle various matters. As to not answering valid criticisms, let me provide a recent example. Denny Burk approvingly linked (Dec. 6, 2014) to a Doug Wilson post. In that post, Wilson detailed several criticisms with the Biologos Forum for its less than biblical understanding of origins. I decided to raise a question on Burk’s Blog:

I truly would appreciate the answer to the following question: Why do you guys make so much of this issue [age of the earth, Adam and Eve, etc.], but never call out Tim Keller? I have watched Al Mohler go hard after people who hold to theistic evolution, but Keller is left untouched.

Denny did not respond, but another reader did. That reader simply said people know Keller is more “moderate” so therefore he does not get criticized. I responded to that reader by saying, “Regardless of what Keller’s personality and posture may be, I am asking why he gets a pass and others don’t. Others could also be categorized as ‘diplomatic,’ but they are not part of the Gospel Coalition, so they alone become targets of criticism.”

For what it’s worth, Moore doesn’t pay sufficient attention to the importance of a medium like the Internet. It is one thing for a blog platform like Patheos to have different channels and allow for a variety of theological perspectives even on a certain channel, like those that separate me from Scot McKnight for instance. But the Gospel Coalition aims to be more than a forum for a variety of authors and religious personalities. It also aims to stand for a proper understanding of the gospel and how to respond to the contemporary challenges that face evangelical Protestantism. According to Collin Hansen:

Ten years ago Don Carson and Tim Keller convened more than 50 pastors concerned with re-establishing the confessional, evangelical center in church preaching and practice. Meeting on the campus of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School north of Chicago, they sought God’s leading in a cooperative effort that would advance orthodox theology, stir spiritual affection, and model compelling apologetics in the public sphere. In short they asked God to raise up a new generation of church leaders as he had done last century through Carl F. H. Henry, Harold John Ockenga, Billy Graham, and many others. This initial meeting in 2005 became The Gospel Coalition.

But the Gospel Coalition, thanks to the Internet, now does a lot more than convene pastors to receive inspiration and learn theological rigor. As a website with a variety of regular bloggers, the Gospel Coalition is something that the average pastor or church member can take with him or her as long as a smart phone or wi-fi is handy.

That kind of 24/7 presence changes an alliance of theologians and pastors. Instead of meeting 3 or 4 times a year at various conferences, now the gospel allies compete for bandwidth with other church and theological leaders and celebrities. This means that the allies always need to have something to say and they need to have a large enough following for the Gospel Coalition to succeed. In which case, a medium like a blog that does a great job of fostering a live discussion (which sometimes breaks out in verbal aggression), is now supposed to do the work of teaching the truth and policing doctrinal borders.

It won’t work. Sometimes the medium really is the message (and I haven’t even brought up the subject that we already have a good institution for teaching the truth and policing doctrinal borders — it’s called not an alliance but the church).

(Image: Marshall McLuhan before starring in Woody Allen movies)

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