The Gospel Coalition: Aging, Resourced, and Less (Historically) Reformed

By Thomas Littleton

Dredging through the social media aftermath of the 2017 SBC annual meetings in Phoenix might seem a thankless task and to some a sad waste of time.  However the presence of the much talked about “Alt-Right Resolution” had many wondering why the persistent racial reconciliation issues continue coming to the floor after years of effort to lay the tired horse of racial accusation to rest.  One plausible if not highly likely answer is there is more to come.  Making the issue of race central to the SBC discussion continues to provide an open door for all things civil rights related.  Understanding progressive methodology can avoid two serious missteps in the near future as well as aid in looking down the road at the goals of “modern day reformers” under the Baptist umbrella.

One very curious find from the social media outlets of convention attendees was the Founders Ministries interview with Tom Ascol and Mark Dever of The Gospel Coalition.  In this short video at about minute 14 is a discussion of Dever’s early friendship with Dr. Albert Mohler.  The information Dever shares is worth considering for a moment in the light of things like the Alt-Right resolution and other misfit progressive rhetoric in Phoenix and from the ERLC / Russell Moore and other TGC members.

In the interview Ascol mentions having boxes of letters from Dever and one in particular about a bright young seminary student who Dever is requesting prayer for.  That student was Al Mohler.  Dever describes the Mohler he knew at Southern for over a year and a half whose “biography has sort of changed over the years.”

Dever further says something to the effect that:

“Al was inconsistent in his own thinking. He became editor of the Christian Index in Georgia and I was in England, reading those editorials and was surprised how conservative they were.  He sort of nailed his colors to the door and those weren’t even his colors three years before.  I could see where conservative people at Southern thought he had turn coated and was being trained for a position.”

Dever describes Al as an orthodox evangelical student who was dealing with the liberal influences at Samford in Birmingham and was in a tension, not having a category for what the was hearing at a Baptist University.  “He gets to Southern and that is exacerbated.” Then in his doctoral work with Timothy George he is “learning about Augustine and Calvin and that causes even more tension.”

Dever adds “when I met Al he was not an inerrantist.  Also he was egalitarian. I don’t think he was comfortable” with the tension. “Al’s liberal friends were right that he changed. They were wrong that he changed for power.  He really did change.”  Is Dever saying Mohler left his liberal friends dazed and confused as well?

Perhaps not everyone will find this interview as revealing or insightful as some of us who remain baffled by Al Mohler and others like his protégé Russell Moore.  For old school conservatives who live with black and white perceptions of reality in the current proverbial wind tunnel of cultural upheaval, Mohler is a mixture at best.  He has without doubt one of the broadest platforms in evangelicalism, yet he and Moore and other Southern teammates often sound like a chorus from an out of tune brass section both confusing the listener and hurting the ears.  Moore’s ERLC debut was just the primer for this long, often painful symphony and his Democratic political background and non-protestant influences offer some insight into why he gives an uncertain sound.  Perhaps this background from friend Mark Dever sheds a bit of light on Al Mohler as well.

You may say that all young men go through this molding / shaping process during seminary and early ministry years.  For Mohler the swing has been dramatic and sudden enough to confuse even his close friends at the time.  Today some share the mixed emotions of my father in law about Mohler.

 “The theologian Mohler I love – but the politician and social commentator Mohler I hate and wish he would just shut up and spare himself and us the public shame of contradicting himself.”

What is more important than confusing his base is the much broader influence Dr. Mohler has on the evangelical world.  By being in reputation, a strong conservative in defense of inerrancy and making claims to the historic Baptist message, we find him apologizing to homosexuals on behalf of Baptists and standing firmly behind his man Dr. Moore as the ERLC repeatedly takes a left of center stand on issues like immigration and call for a stand down to the culture wars which Christians are not waging but having waged upon them.

The Coalition

The greater of Dr. Mohler’s show of influence is beyond the SBC with Dever to the larger reformed community through PCAs Tim Keller.  All are key players in The Gospel Coalition.  Because TGS is reformed it is almost universally assumed that it is also socially conservative.  If you still make this assumption perhaps you have not followed the Coalition very closely.  Colin Hansen (Young Restless and Reformed ) writes about TGC,

“The vision of the Coalition is to create a movement that by long-term effort could renew and reform evangelical thought and practice, both in the USA and worldwide. The Coalition seeks to motivate pastors and theologians to subscribe to a policy of social activism. The theological vision for ministry urges Christians to become a counterculture for the common good. The ‘doing of justice and mercy’ is an important aspect of the Coalition’s gospel centered ministry. ‘The resurrection of Jesus shows that he is going to redeem both the spiritual and the material. Therefore God is concerned not only for the salvation of souls but also for the relief of poverty, hunger, and injustice. “ YRR page 13

By admission of one of its primary early spokesmen TGC is a progressive global movement promoting Social Justice and the Common Good. This is the classic realm reserved for humanist “Christians” and those adept at Bible twisting who tout Jesus as a non-divine homeless man crying out for the cause of the underserved.

Guilty for Being a Non Minority?

This past week’s PCA annual meeting boasted a Korean moderator whose talk centered around “White Privilege.”  The SBC can expect the same issue in the near future given the ongoing push of these resolutions.  SBC spokesman Russell Moore gave the Alt-Right, White Supremacy agenda its final push prior to the affirming vote.

Classic Reformed vs Neo Calvinism

There is growing concern in the Presbyterian Church of America’s ranks and the smaller more traditional reformed circles about TGC ,Tim Keller and friends.  Keller, the cofounder of the Coalition, and Al Mohler are considered to be the new great thinkers of evangelicalism.  Keller is even called the new C.S. Lewis.  Keller began his soft shoe dance on homosexuality in 2013 saying “Christians can support gay marriage in the culture – just not in the church” (a dangerously flawed misunderstanding of the realities of redefining marriage ).  By 2015 Keller was unable to clearly state that homosexuality is a sin in a Veritas Forum interview. Earlier that year he served to develop a major evangelical compromise with other leaders by promoting the Civilitas Group.

The Civilitas Group Theory of Social Change was developed by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at UVA. This past weeks PCA annual meeting boasted a Korean moderator who talking center around “White Privilege” at UVA.  The IASC celebrates its intellectual roots in the Marxist Frankfurt School which influenced TGC co-founder Keller and “like minded” evangelicals to “change the tone in the church on race (like addressing white privilege and supremacy), Islam, homosexuality and incivility in general,” while leaders in TGC are out to reform evangelical thought and practice world-wide.  They are on the cutting edge of pushing a left of center social agenda on the rest of church which largely takes them for conservative Biblical leaders with a Gospel driven vision.

According to many traditional reformed leaders outside TGC, Mohler, Keller, Dever, John Macarthur and others are not truly historically reformed but are a hodgepodge of theological diversions, some considered heretical by classically reformed standards, promoting a progressive social gospel wrapped in a new transforming theology.  They are highly ecumenical as in the case of partnering with troubled Charismatic Mark Driscoll and the now defrocked PCA embarrassment, Tullian Tchividjian. The full extent of these differences are better addressed at another time by a historically reformed conservative instead of this Baptist evangelist but the fruit or division and case for concern is easily made.

Church Planting or Growing a New Denomination?

In the past evangelicals did live up to our name – we evangelized.  Today TGC evangelism is less about planting seeds of the Gospel in human hearts than about planting churches.   TGC plants bear the DNA and ideology of their Coalition birth parents – right down to the new Calvinist theology and Communitarian gospel business model templates honed to for success. Emphasis on individual faith and conversion is exchanged for a collectivist identity offering “community” in whatever terms one wishes to define it. Streams of funding for such plants come from a variety of sources outside the movement.  Tim Keller is leaving his Redeemer City Church pulpit in July 2017 to focus on planting 1000 plus new churches in global cities by 2025.  TGC has Acts 29, 9Marks, involvement from NAMB and IMB leadership and pastors and a cross section of planting organizations and the PCA.

Perhaps one thing is being missed if we take a google earth shot of this situation.  Clearly those involved in both the SBC and PCA who are part of the new wave of The Gospel Coalition have placed themselves in a unique position of power and influence to reform both denominations with their ideology wrapped in theology.  They are driving much of the conversation and impacting many young /next gen ministers and creating a groundswell of conflicting progressive vs traditional ideologies.  With the planting of thousands of new churches bearing their imprint and DNA they have placed themselves in a win-win situation to either take over both denominations or have a ready made quasi-denomination immediately comprised of the church plants already bearing TGCs image. Either way, the significant goal of reforming / transforming the face of evangelicalism is accomplished.  Time will tell as these well placed pieces and players continue their efforts.

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