Will Lee has begun writing a series of post on the group known as Together for the Gospel (T4G) that I found very interesting (see here and here). It needs to be read carefully so you can know what he is and is not saying. One thing toward which he gives much attention is the sort of “bait-and-switch” presentation of a movement like Together for the Gospel (and may we add The Gospel Coalition by extension?). The slogans being used would suggest that this is a sort of minimalist fellowship. There is an effort to set aside denominational distinctives in order to gather around the one thing that is essential to Christianity–the gospel.
Sadly, as Lee notes, there is a list of “Affirmations and Denials” that includes all kinds of secondary issues. Article I affirms “inerrancy”; Article III speaks against postmodernism; Article XIII affirms “imputation”; Article XVI promotes the complementarian understanding of gender roles…you get the picture. While you may or may not affirm these doctrines one thing we must be clear about, which Lee rightly exposes, is that this is not about “being together for the gospel.”.
The Gospel Coalition is more of the same (see here). Their confessional statement includes an affirmation of the historical Adam and Eve and a description of gender roles that is essentially complementarian (3. “Creation of Humanity”) and while it is vague in juxtaposition to that of those who are part of Together for the Gospel the fact that most of the participants are Reformed or semi-Reformed tells me a lot more than the confessional statement.
In many ways we either have a form of neo-Fundamentalism being repackaged in such a way that the pill is easier to swallow if it is covered in tasty “gospel” coating or we have essentially a neo-Reformed movement finding a new way to sell their brand of Christianity. While I have Calvinist leanings myself I have heard John Piper (in a sermon he did on Athanasius) speak about the Calvinist-Arminian debate in such a matter as to suggest he will not be satisfied until we all pray toward Geneva three times a day. I’m going to guess that most Arminian types don’t plan on going to a Gospel Coalition meeting any time soon.
I need to be fair though. I don’t think that it is the far conservative side of American Christianity that is alone in repackaging their brand. It is the further left side as well.
For a while many of us have wondered what happened to the “emerging church” or more specifically “Emergent” since the former refused to be “defined” until it slipped away into the history of other fads (I know, I know, there are many who will disavow this saying that “Emergent” is alive and well, but I think that if you are honest you will notice it isn’t receiving nearly as much attention as it did a few years ago). It seems to me that “Emergent” is being revamped and resold under a new title: “Big Tent Christianity“.
I saw some pictures from a recent meeting of people who are “big tent” and it included Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Jay Baker, and so forth and so on. You know, the so-called “outlaw” preachers. Those with a creed that there is no creed except whatever creed they communicate through winks and special handshakes. You get the idea.
Do “movements” evolve? Sure, I know Pentecostalism partially morphed into the Charismatic Movement which partially morphed into something called “Third Wave”. It happens. It may be good and it may be bad. Who is to know?! I don’t know if The Gospel Coalition is a healthier form of fellowship amongst Reformed churches. I don’t know if “Big Tent Christianity” will give new life to “Emergent”. All I am saying is that “there is nothing new under the sun”. For most of us Christians who want to live our lives; love our local church family; care for our wives, kids, and even grandchildren; pay the bills and fix the leaky tire on our car, don’t worry and don’t hurry to become part of the latest and greatest.* By the time you settle down it will be called something else.
* I know people from these movements all want to love their church, their family, and so forth. I am not saying that they don’t. All I am saying is that those who are just trying to live their faith in their world day-to-day without worrying about brand names should not think of themselves as somehow missing out on something.
Solid post, Brian. It reminds me of a post I wrote last summer on movements and fads, after reading some thoughts from a book entitled, oddly enough, The Gospel Driven Church by Ian Stackhouse. I mainly spend some time critiquing the church-growth obsession.
Great info Brian, I’ve seen a lot of talk about Big Tent Christianity but have never seen much info about them.
Definitely a good reminder to step back and look at the movements I tend to follow and align with (T4G for example.)
Jon, it’s nice to see a T4G guy willing to “step back and look at the movement.” Too often my T4G friends accept everything that comes from the conference without thinking deeply enough.
This reminds me of the rule I have that any fellowship which includes “International” or “World” is likely a cult or dancing dangerously close to the line.
Hmm… when folks like Gordon Fee, Tom Wright, Craig Keener, and Ben Witherington couldn’t join T4G/GC because of those secondary issues, it makes you wonder 😉
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