TGC and the Local Church: Priorities

This past Sunday I preached at a local church in Minneapolis with a lot of 20-30 year olds. Preaching on Psalm 1, I mentioned how obedience and grace are inextricably linked, and one need only to look at the recent The Gospel Coalition events surrounding Tullian to highlight its importance.

After corporate worship, a young man approached me and expressed concern, even disillusionment, over TGC’s situation. “I love Keller and Tullian,” he said. “It makes me hesitant to commit to these groups when these sort of things happen.”

My encouragement to this young man was simple: hold on loosely to these affiliations, glean what you can, dismiss the dismissable. But remember: you’re not under these groups’ or men’s authority (unless one of these men serve as your local pastor). What’s primary is the local church. Ensure you’re committed to it and are someone who’s under their authority (i.e. biblical, loving, serving, protecting vs. domineering, abusing, unbiblical, etc.)

In the end, ministries like The Gospel Coalition can be very good things. But they should never replace or eclipse the local church as the primary means of grace, influence, honor and love.

The local church is where our priorities should ultimately lie.

Blustery Brouhaha Over Law and Gospel?

There’s a serious and worthwhile discussion unfolding among notable Reformed folk regarding the Law and Gospel. Here’s a chronological summation:

  1. May 2: Jen Wilkins wrote a blog post, “Failure Is Not a Virtue” for The Gospel Coalition, introducing (and dismissing) “celebratory failurism,” which (says Wilkins) effectively truncates Law and obedience and inflates grace. Jen asserts this is an unbiblical and misguided understanding of the relationship and between Law, Gospel, obedience and grace.
  2. May 9: Tullian Tchividjian was asked (apparently by TGC blog’s editors), to respond to Jen’s initial post. In his post “Acknowledging Failure IS a Virtue: A Response to Jen Wilkin,”  Tullian sharply draws a distinction between Law and Gospel, making some accusations regarding Wilkins (see below).
  3. May 9: Mike Kruger quickly responds to Tullian, who, he says, “accuses her of ‘theological muddiness,’ of having ‘deep theological confusion,’ and of mixing law and gospel in a way which ‘prevents the reader from hearing (and being relieved by) the real good news.'” Kruger then defends Wilkins while raising pointed questions regarding Tullian’s response to her initial post.
  4. May 10: Mark Jones proposes a debate between him and Tullian regarding the Law and Gospel.
  5. May 12: Carl Trueman weighs in, heightening concerns about Tullian, defending Wilkins, and throwing his name in the hat to debate Tullian.

Some may view this brouhaha over Law and Gospel as damning evidence of unnecessary theological in-fighting over minor issues.

Except these aren’t minor issues.

Instead, these discussions have significant implications for how today’s church understands Law, Gospel, grace and obedience.

In other words, they have everything to do with how the church understands and lives the Christian life.

T-U-L-I-P (Minus Grace)

Without a pastoral dimension the offense of the gospel too easily is understood as the offensiveness of the church. The unchurched have no perception of a loving God who accepts persons while they are yet sinners.

A brutal example of this was provided by the recent [1979] Hollywood film Hard Core, written and directed by a young man raised in an evangelical church. It is an agonizing experience for anyone from that community and the wider evangelical world to watch that film. The focus of the story is a lay member of the ‘Christian Reformation Church.’ His daughter has run away from home and joined the unchurched in the world of pornographic film. The hero goes to find her and recruits for the search a teen-age prostitute.

In a scene I think every gospel communicator should see, the hero, Jake, sits with the prostitute in an airport lobby waiting for the plane to take them to a California city and to the conclusion of their search. Jake is reading a newspaper. The girl asks about his church background. As nearly as I can remember the dialogue, it begins with a question from the girl:

‘What church do you go to?’

‘Well, we’re a Calvinistic church.’

‘Calvinistic? I don’t understand.’

‘Well, we believe in the Canons of Dordt.’ There is a look of confusion on her face. He continues, ‘You know, the five points of Calvinism: T-U-L-I-P.’

‘Tulip?’ she asks.

‘Yes, that’s an acronym,’ he continues, still reading. ‘T stand for total depravity.’

‘Total depravity?’

‘Yes, all men are totally unable to do good….’

At this point the plane is announced, Jake puts down his paper, and they head for the door.

The most frightening part of that scene is not what Jake said with his verbal symbols. Sovereign grace is sovereign grace, no matter how you spell it. It was what he really conveyed to that teen-age prostitute, to a girl whose whole life was sex and brutality. He was talking about grace without talking about grace. The Lord’s sheer mercy had become an empty sign with faded letters.

–Harvie Conn, Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace (pp. 22-23,  emphases mine.)