January 1, 2013

Dr. Lance Ketchum: Gospel Centrism and Its Neo-orthodox Foundations

Gospel Centrism has been around for many years. In most part it has been in the Neo-evangelical and Neo-orthodox camps of theology. Within these camps Gospel Centrism has always been part of varying degrees of false views regarding the doctrine of the Church. Both Neo-evangelical and Neo-orthodox proponents view the Church as some large mystical entity of all the “elect” (the regenerated and yet to be regenerated). This view of the Church has been rapidly spreading through independent, fundamental Baptist churches as they become converted to Reformed Theology in varying degrees. Because of this errant view of the Church, their view of biblical unity is proportionately distorted as well. Depending upon what Camp you are in, there is a proportionate reduction of necessary of agreement (theological unity) on other doctrines before fellowship can be established.

In I Corinthians chapter three, the Apostle Paul harshly corrected the Corinthian believers for their carnal divisions in the church. His rebuke was not because they had refused to separate from them those teaching false doctrine. He rebuked them because they had created divisions between themselves regarding whom it was that baptized them and of whom they considered the higher authority for what was being taught. Divisions in the church were developing that would lead to sectarianism similar to the Rabbinical Schools existing within Judaism. This was not to be part of Christianity. Unfortunately, that was not what has come to pass. We have men who are more loyal to their alma mater or some teacher/professor than they are to Christ. Such is the problem caused by the movement that has come to be known as Gospel Centrism. Bible Colleges and Seminaries are the new Rabbinical Schools and Bible Professors are the new Rabbis.

Gospel Centrism fines its origins in Karl Barth’s Dialectic Theology that came to be known as Neo-orthodoxy. Neo-orthodoxy was nothing new and it was not orthodox. Charles Ryrie addressed Barth's unorthodox Gospel Centrism in addressing Barth's radical view of his Neo-orthodox and existential view of biblical inspiration. Ryrie said:
“Karl Barth (1886-1968), though one of the most influential theologians in recent history, held a defective and dangerous view of inspiration, a view many continue to propagate. Barthians generally align themselves with the liberal school of biblical criticism. Yet they often preach like evangelicals. This makes Barthianism more dangerous than blatant liberalism.” For the Barthian, revelation centers in Jesus Christ. If He is the center of the circle of revelation, then the Bible stands on the periphery of that circle. Jesus Christ is the Word (and, of course, He is); but the Bible serves as a witness to the Word, Christ. The Bible's witness to the Word is uneven; that is, some parts of it are more important in their witness than other parts. Those are the parts that witness about Christ. Nevertheless, such parts, though important, are not necessarily accurate. Indeed, Barthians embrace the conclusions of liberalism regarding the Gospels, which teach that there are errors in those records.”[1]
Granted, most of the (so called) fundamental Gospel Centrists would not go so far as Barth in his very weak view of inspiration. However, like Barth, they do tend to categorize doctrines according to some highly subjective criteria. Can we find any such pattern in their discussions for such subjective categorizing of doctrine according to importance so they might have some form of ambiguous unity? Of course we do! Again, there is a general consensus that agreement about defining the Gospel must be the first doorway that anyone must pass through before any kind of unity might be had. However, that discussion has never taken place in any public forum I have read coming from the Gospel Centrists. To make the Gospel the only significant doorway to some basic agreement to unity is really naive and an extreme form of theological reductionism. I WANT to have fellowship with other believers and other local churches, but THEY MUST BE OF LIKE PRECIOUS FAITH! I often go out of my way to give a man the benefit of doubt. I go with him an extra mile!

Undoubtedly, the Bible is Christocentric. I do not think anyone should argue with that statement. That fact is a reality from Genesis 3:15 through Revelation 22:20. Therefore, no one should really argue against the fact that the Bible is Gospel centered. The Bible certainly is Gospel centered. Neither would anyone argue that the Gospel is the primary defining factor for the arena of agreement necessary to biblical fellowship (meaning cooperative ministry) with another professing believer or with other local churches. Paul clearly established the priority of a pure Gospel as a necessity for fellowship with other professing believers or other local churches in his epistle to the Galatian churches.
“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:6-9).
Certainly, we understand that the perversion Paul addressed in Galatians was the adding of “the works of the law” to the Gospel as a necessity for salvation. “The works of the Law” included making any type of Moralism or Ritualism necessary to someone’s salvation. We would also agree that many other perversions of the Gospel have developed over the centuries that carry the same anathema of Paul’s statement in Galatians 1:9. In fact, Paul’s anathema on the false Gospel has more to do with unbiblical responses to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ than it does with the objective facts of the Gospel. It is not that the Judaizers disagreed with the objective facts of Christ’s accomplished redemption. They disagreed about the necessary response to the Gospel in order to be saved. The Judaizers saw justification as a process rather than an event.

Men like Luther and Calvin also took a progressive view of justification. In fact, perseverance of the saints is really a progressive view of justification. In fact, in Calvin’s Institutes of Religion, he has dedicated the whole fourteenth chapter to the discussion of progressive justification, which is just an extension of his false doctrine of Monergism (if you are not familiar with this term, be sure to educate yourself about it ASAP). If you are willing to read through all of Calvin’s convoluted nonsense, you will discover that he believed that justification “by grace through faith” is not an event, but rather a progressive process. Calvin and Luther both believed in an extreme form of the false doctrine of Monergism that confused or co-mingled justification with progressive sanctification. This is a common problem within traditional Calvinism and New Calvinism. Calvin said:
“On the contrary, though we may be redeemed by Christ, still, until we are ingrafted into union with him by the calling of the Father, we are darkness, the heirs of death, and the enemies of God. For Paul declares that we are not purged and washed from our impurities by the blood of Christ until the Spirit accomplishes that cleansing in us (1 Cor. 6:11). Peter, intending to say the same thing, declares that the sanctification of the Spirit avails “unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ,” (1 Pet. 1:2). If the sprinkling of the blood of Christ by the Spirit gives us purification, let us not think that, previous to this sprinkling, we are anything but sinners without Christ. Let us, therefore, hold it as certain, that the beginning of our salvation is as it were a resurrection from death unto life, because, when it is given us on behalf of Christ to believe on him (Phil. 1:29), then only do we begin to pass from death unto life.”[2] (underlining added)
Calvin’s convolution in progressive justification is also expressed in his commentary on I John 1:9 
“This passage is remarkable; and from it we first learn, that the expiation of Christ, effected by his death, does then properly belong to us, when we, in uprightness of heart, do what is right and just for Christ is no redeemer except to those who turn from iniquity, and lead a new life. If, then, we desire to have God propitious to us, so as to forgive our sins, we ought not to forgive ourselves. In short, remission of sins cannot be separated from repentance, nor can the peace of God be in those hearts, where the fear of God does not prevail. “Secondly, this passage shews that the gratuitous pardon of sins is given us not only once, but that it is a benefit perpetually residing in the Church, and daily offered to the faithful. For the Apostle here addresses the faithful; as doubtless no man has ever been, nor ever will be, who can otherwise please God, since all are guilty before him; for however strong a desire there may be in us of acting rightly, we always go haltingly to God. Yet what is half done obtains no approval with God. In the meantime, by new sins we continually separate ourselves, as far as we can, from the grace of God. Thus it is, that all the saints have need of the daily forgiveness of sins; for this alone keeps us in the family of God.”[3] (underlining added) 
9 If we confess He again promises to the faithful that God will be propitious to them, provided they acknowledge themselves to be sinners. It is of great moment to be fully persuaded, that when we have sinned, there is a reconciliation with God ready and prepared for us: we shall otherwise carry always a hell within us. Few, indeed, consider how miserable and wretched is a doubting conscience; but the truth is, that hell reigns where there is no peace with God. The more, then, it becomes us to receive with the whole heart this promise which offers free pardon to all who confess their sins. Moreover, this is founded even on the justice of God, because God who promises is true and just. For they who think that he is called just, because he justifies us freely, reason, as I think, with too much refinement, because justice or righteousness here depends on fidelity, and both are annexed to the promise. For God might have been just, were he to deal with us with all the rigor of justice; but as he has bound himself to us by his word, he would not have himself deemed just, except he forgives.”[4] (underlining added)
The obvious error here is Calvin’s confusing regeneration with salvation. Salvation is an event that begins the process of regeneration that culminates in the believer’s glorification. The so called Golden Chain of Romans 8:29-30 is in fact the order of the regeneration,” not the order of salvation. Although regeneration and salvation are connected, they are two separate doctrines. They are synchronous, but not synonymous. However, there is never any doubt about the ultimate outcome in that every believer is “complete in Him” upon the moment of their salvation decision. Paul, in dealing with the heresy of Gnosticism, warns against the “philosophy” of progressive justification in Colossians chapter two and makes some very definitive statements condemning such an idea.

“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete {perfect, passive} in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised {aorist, passive} with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried {aorist, passive} with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen {aorist, passive} with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:8-12).

It is foolish to say that agreement on the Gospel should be the only thing that determines what belongs in the arena of agreement for any cooperative ministry to be blessed of God. After all, should not the determining factor for fellowship be about what is necessary for God's blessings on cooperative ministry?

Granted, there are some nuances of doctrine over which one should not separate. However, in the propagation of Gospel Centrism, we fine its proponents radically silent on even general areas of doctrine. Instead they make wide, sweeping arguments for unity without any biblical exegesis for the basis of that unity. Have unity and fellowship somehow become two separate and disconnected entities? Can Christians unite for fellowship without any definitive theological foundations for that unity? It appears to me that many are throwing around theological terms while trying to purposefully make the meaning of those terms ambiguous. The job of theologians is to provide answers, not raise doubts and questions that essentially abrogate dogmatism.

It seems to me that the Gospel Centrists are striving for the kind of unity that the leaders of the Reformation had? We would be foolish to think that there was close agreement between most of the players within the Reformation. On a few occasions, they tried to have one another killed. The leaders of the Reformation were united in what they opposed. The leaders of the Reformation opposed Roman Catholicism and Papalism, but never opposed Rome's radically corrupted Theonomic views of Ecclesiology or Eschatology. The leaders of the Reformation opposed all who refused to baptize infants, even persecuting and killing those with opposing views. Are Gospel Centrists seeking a softer, gentler New Reformation?

It would appear to me that the Gospel Centrists are really trying to cultivate a twenty-first century New Reformation. They are proposing a New Reformation that is not based upon doctrinal agreement, but upon denigrating those they oppose. Many of the Gospel Centrists are trying to accomplish this New Reformation within their own ambiguous confession of faith known as Fundamentalism and Conservative Evangelicalism. If you understand the formation of the movement known as Fundamentalism you understand that their unity was in what they opposed rather than the few things upon which they agreed. That is not biblical unity! Biblical unity has a trinity of agreement for unity:

1. Right doctrine (orthodoxy)
2. Right practice (orthopraxy)
3. Right purpose (orthopathy)

Careful exegesis of Ephesians chapter four will provide ample foundations for this trinity of unity. Of course, there will be small nuances of disagreement within each of these three areas of agreement. We are not looking for unanimity. However, there should be a very broad and definitive arena for agreement. If not, the Scriptures have not given enough weight of evidence for dogmatism. There surely is enough weight of evidence to be dogmatic about every general category of doctrine. In these general categories of doctrine there must be agreement before unity can be achieved.

In Ephesians chapter four, the emphasis is to seek unity with the Godhead. The simple truth of the chapter is that all those in unity with the Godhead will be in unity with one another. The unity of the Godhead is a tri-unity both in their Persons and in the three areas of orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy. We need to put a stop to all of the theological ambiguity of Gospel Centrism and mark it for its reductionist's goals of a pseudo unity lacking any theological parameters.

Instead of continuing a discussion engulfed in theological ambiguity defining the center, perhaps the wiser of those in the discussion should be more involved in a discussion of what defines the broader parameters of agreement for unity. The Gospel Centrists refuse this part of the discussion because they know their movement will immediately disintegrate into a thousand factions if they do. Their answer to those wanting them to define these parameters is - WE WON'T GO THERE!
They [Gospel Centrists] know that true biblical separatism, when practiced biblically, will dissolve their pseudo unity like sugar in water.
Talking about Gospel centered ministry sounds wonderful. Who would disagree that every ministry should be Gospel centered? However, the terminology is purposefully deceptive, because the gospel of Gospel Centrism is Calvin's Sovereign Grace gospel of Monergism. Gospel Centrism is an attempt at a New Reformation that joins together all those holding to various positions of Reformed Theology bound together by Calvin's Sovereign Grace gospel centered in Monergism. In order to achieve this New Reformation that focuses on this new radical center, every other category of doctrine must be minimalized and marginalize to achieve the goal of Sovereign Grace Gospel Centered Unity (this would at least be an honest name for the movement). The naiveties within Fundamentalism are being suckered into this deception. If you do not believe this is true, connect the dots to those promoting Gospel Centrism.

If nothing else, this New Reformation is the outcome of the Gospel Centrism propagated by a book entitled The Gospel as Center edited by D.A. Carson, and Timothy Keller, with contributing articles by thirteen other men, all New Evangelicals. Another book, written with a similar premise, is Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern Times. This book was edited by Millard J. Erickson, Paul Kjoss Helseth, and Justin Taylor with thirteen other contributing authors; all New Evangelicals calling themselves Contemporary Evangelicals. Most true Baptists and true Fundamentalists do not read these kinds of books. They probably should read these books just to stay informed on the terminology and where these terms come from. Although these men may have some good things to say, there is a compromising spirit engrafted in their universal view of the Church.

The common denominator among all these men is their connections to Reformed Theology. Propagation of their New Reformation has come through conferences such as Gospel Coalition, Together for the Gospel (T4G), the Ligonier Conference of the Reformed theologian R.C. Sproul, and the Acts 29 Convention. Gospel Centrism is a Sovereign Grace movement to capture evangelical Christianity and much of Fundamentalism with Calvinism. There is no doubt about it!
The only difference is that the reformed fundamental Baptists are trying to achieve the same goal while hiding behind ambiguous terminology.
Unless these men are uprooted from our Baptist Bible Colleges and Baptist Seminaries, they will turn many Baptist churches into becoming Reformed in their doctrine. Before you recommend any student to a Bible College or Seminary, ask those institutions who on their staff holds to any degree of Reformed Theology. Do not let them get by with their deceptions. Bring them out of the shadows by shining the light upon their hidden goals.
“Go from the presence of a foolish man, when thou perceivest not in him the lips of knowledge. The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way: but the folly of fools is deceit” (Proverbs 14:7-8).

[1] Ryrie, Charles C. Basic Theology. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books1994, page 75.
[2] Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Public Domain PDF: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.html, Third Book, Chapter Fourteen, page 483.
[3] Calvin, John. Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom45.pdf, page 143.
[4] Ibid. pages 145-146.

Numerous studies and series are available free of charge for local churches at: http://www.disciplemakerministries.org/

Dr. Lance Ketchum serves the Lord as a Church Planter, Evangelist/Revivalist.
He has served the Lord for over 40 years.

Reprinted by permission

1 comment:

  1. This is a fantastic article. Many are running from their former Gurus of which that have been disaffected into the arms of new ones. They will be worse off than before in the end.

    What is lacking from these Teachers is their own difficult and rigorous exegesis and theological vetting. They will discover their new masters are not any better than their old.

    However, some are not necessarily running as they are opening the door as gatekeepers and they are the ones who will account for such a travesty. Thank you Lance Ketchum and thank you Lou for posting this.