Posted on Wednesday, September 21, 2016 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

 

Over at Ref21 Rick Phillips posted a vigorous defense of complementarianism. I agree with much of his defense. What was particularly encouraging for me however was his clear statement regarding ESS. 

Recent months have seen considerable controversy among conservative Christians around the topic of complementarianism, arising mainly from a false analogy between the subordination of wives to husbands and that of God the Son to God the Father. Depending on your perspective, the complementarian view has been either maligned, discredited, or reformed. My hope is that events will prove that the latter has taken place. I am in complete solidarity with those who reject the eternal subordination of the Son in any form, since no amount of nuance or affirmation of Christ's deity can preserve it from functionally reproducing the Arian position. There are no ends for which a degrading of the Trinity is an excusable means. I am therefore grateful for the way this controversy, though regrettably contentious, has highlighted massively important issues of theology that tend to receive little attention. At the same time, my hope is that this attempt to reform the complementarian position will not truly damage the important stand it takes.  (emphasis mine)

I appreciate Rev. Phillips' clarity on this point. Here at MOS we have expressed deep concern over the fact that CBMW has anchored the Bible's teaching on the roles of men and women in the church and family to ESS. I continue to hope that CBMW will once and for all refute ESS. Tethering the Bible's teachings on the relationships within the church and family to error about the Trinity is proving to be disastrous. We must never seek to advance truth through means of error. 

 

Posted on Wednesday, September 14, 2016 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

 

No, we are not ready to move away from the Trinity controversy yet. The ones who are guilty of propating the error of ESS/EFS have not yet publically repented. That, by the way, is what is required when one spreads doctrinal error.

 

There are already attempts going on to rewrite history ("Our organization never promoted ESS!"). Those who came out swinging when MOS first began posting challenges to ESS, having noticed the clear consensus of scholars, are remaining largely silent on the issue of late.* That is wise. It's never a good idea to continue to press for something which has proven to be inconsistent with Scripture. The problem is that while seminaries quietly try to get some of their professors up to speed on Christian orthodoxy and publishers revise books on the downlow the errors continue to fester in the soil of many churches and parachurch ministries. 

 

To advance doctrinal error is sin. It matters not if the guilty party did not know he was teaching error. To do so out of malice or ignorance is sin. It is impious, for instance, to foist common analogies upon the majestic and mysterious Godhead. It is true that, being in the image of God, we are like him in some ways. Nevertheless God is not like us. And the Trinity is most certainly not like a human family with the Father as husband, the Son as wife, and the Spirit as child. 

 

An official from a rather large denomination and a fine brother recently reached out to me to confirm that this controversy prompted his committee to begin scrubbing all of the ESS and references to the men who have promoted it from their curriculum and recommended resources. That was good news indeed. But what of the many churches, denominations, and ministries which do not have men as discerning as the brother to which I spoke? This is why repentance and refutation are so important. The men and ministries and seminaries which have either actively or passively promoted ESS need to say what all Christians must say throughout their lives: "I'm sorry. I was wrong." 

 

Until that happens I do not see how this controversy can come to an end. God's glory and the peace and purity of the church are too precious to turn a blind eye to error which strikes at the heart of the nature of God. 

 

* I did notice that Wayne Grudem will be presenting a paper at the 2016 meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society which is entitled "Why A Denial of the Son's Eternal Submission Threatens Both the Trinity and the Bible" (p. 51). That is a bold statement. Given the recent controversy I suspect there will be a capacity crowd. 

 

Posted on Monday, September 12, 2016 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

 

Some people wonder (others fuss about) why we at Mortification of Spin seem to devote so much energy to objecting to the celebrity culture and methods of Big Reformed(ish) Evangelicalism. That's an easy question to answer. It's bad for the church. Period.

 

The Reformed community has created their own version of the monster made by broader evangelicalism; a monster they continue to suffer from. Just becasue our theology is better does not mean that we will avoid the dangers inherent in entrusting certain para-church ministries with the duties of the church. Just because we are Calvinists doesn't mean that our celebrities are any more immune from the temptations of fame and wealth as the heretics of the Word/Faith movement. 

 

And more and more folks are noticing...

This monster–these councils, coalitions, and networks–flourishes in an environment that exists independently of the spiritual authority and accountability structures intended by Jesus. That wouldn’t be a problem except that many of these organizations seem to have assumed to themselves the work of the church–e.g. connecting the grace of God to the world, or calling to freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness, or renewing faith in the gospel, or standing together for the gospel, etc. Jesus intended the church to be entrusted with the ministry of gathering and perfecting the saints, and he intended that to be accomplished under the authority and accountability that he also established. When you extract the work of the church from the structure of the church you begin to create an environment ripe for dangerous problems. Problems like false teachers, public scandal, doctrinal imprecision and error, abuse of influence, and the promotion of them all, answerable and held in check by the will and whim of a board of directors devoid of biblical spiritual oversight. That’s the monster we’ve created.

From Kyle Borg's post The Monster We Created: Councils, Brand Names, and Celebrities

 

Posted on Thursday, September 08, 2016 by Todd Pruitt on 1517
 
I made the decision to take down my post critiquing Denny Burk’s article on Philippians 2:6. It was not an easy decision. I still believe my critique was appropriate. I still believe Denny’s article is problematic. 
 
But I don’t have very thick skin. 
 
I learned a lesson today. It was a lesson I was warned of: Be very careful about taking on men with powerful friends. After being bombarded well into the night by angry emails accusing me of everything but the Kennedy assassination I decided that the satisfaction of critiquing a problematic article was not worth it. 
 
Now, none of Denny’s correspondence with me was inappropriate in any way. I wish however that I could say the same thing about his defenders. 
 
If any of the men from various organizations who expressed to me their concerns about Denny’s article want to give it a try, my blessings. But some of you will wind up in some truly hot water if you do. 
 
I grieve over the state of modern reformed(ish) evangelicalism. Quite frankly it looks more and more like a racket to me. Power has been concentrated in the hands of a very few and they all happen to be friends. Mess with one of their family and it’s only a matter of time before Clemenza is sent out searching for you. 
 
Anyway, at least I got to fit in a Godfather reference.
 
Posted on Thursday, September 08, 2016 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

 

Denny Burk and I have been corresponding today concerning my post from yesterday. Understandably Denny takes strong exception to my conclusions. And while his disagreements with my conclusions have been vigorous, his tone has been Christlike. 

 

To sum up I was happy to hear that Denny does indeed fully affirm the equality of the Son and the Father in the eternal Godhead. 

 

Denny takes me to task for accusing him of denying ontological unity between the Persons of the Godhead. I do not deny that Denny fully affirms the deity of the Son. That is not in question. For me, the confusion comes in with the terminology used such as "eternal Godhead." We may have a major disagreement on how we understand that. Denny also asserts that this difference of equality between Son and Father existed prior to the incarnation. Apparently I am drawing a conclusion from that statement far different from what he intended.  

 

I remain confused about Denny's article as written. I have corresponded with quite a few individuals about it. That correspondence has included systematic theologians and fellow pastors who read the article precisely the same way I read it.

 

That said, Denny is a brother in Christ and an honorable man and I take him at his word.

 

I have also extended to Denny an invitation to post a response to me on this blog. If he chooses to respond elsewhere I will post a link. 

 

Posted on Wednesday, August 24, 2016 by Todd Pruitt on 1517
 
On August 22 Christianity Today posted another article on the recent debate over the doctrine of the Trinity. I won’t rehash the details of the debate. However the author of the CT piece does get a few details wrong. Notably she repeats the line that the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) maintains a neutral position regarding ESS/EFS/ERAS (I am sure that is what she was told). She also states that the CBMW website has only one article on ERAS which is by Wayne Grudem, a founder of the organization. Of course, that may now be true (more on that in a bit). 
 
The fact is CBMW has not been neutral regarding the doctrine of the Son’s eternal subordination to the Father. (As a reminder, no orthodox theologian denies that there is a kind of order in the Godhead or that the Son in his incarnate and self-humiliating state submitted his will to that of his Father as part of his identification with mankind. The error of Drs. Grudem and Ware is that they export that subordination of will from something belonging to the economic Trinity into the eternal relations of the Godhead.) It is true that some members of CBMW’s council reject that errant doctrine. However, the fact remains that CBMW has deliberately and repeatedly built its theological support for the complementary roles of men and women upon this deeply flawed doctrine of the Trinity.
 
Both Aimee Byrd and Rachel Miller have shown the strong connection between CBMW and EFS. 
 
I am now troubled by what seems to be an effort to rewrite history. In fact, things seem to be disappearing without any explanation.
 
The weight of scholarship has spoken on the issue. Even those who stepped into the debate to dismiss as cranks (and worse) the critics of the theology of Ware and Grudem were nevertheless careful to make clear that they did not agree with EFS. One wonders why they don't agree. Obviously it must be because they find EFS to be unbiblical. Now it's one thing to find a pre-tribulation rapture of the church to be unbiblical. It is quite another to conclude that professors in evangelical seminaries hold an unbiblical view of the Trinity!
 
Let us keep in mind that in his wildly popular Systematic Theology Wayne Grudem writes that the Trinity is analogous to husband (the Father), wife (the Son), and child (the Holy Spirit). It boggles my mind that so many well-known men within the broader reformed(ish) world are unwilling to refute such nonsense. I can only speculate as to why. But I believe that I can say with 100% certainty that if egalitarian theologians and pastors were drawing those same analogies the refutations would come fast and furious. 
 
One of the more peculiar features of the current debate is the men who insist on agreement in the applications of the Bible’s teaching on the roles of men and women but allow great diversity of opinion on the nature of God. As Liam Goligher has recently pointed out, the doctrine of God is not secondary. The doctrine of God is not subordinate (no pun intended) to, for instance, the doctrine of the atonement. The doctrine of God is primary. And yet some of the very men who helped lead worthy battles against attacks on Scriptural authority and substitutionary atonement seem to offer a collective shrug to views about the Trinity they themselves identify as erroneous. How is it that we must agree on women’s roles in society but not on the Son’s role in the Trinity?
 
It is clear that the leadership of CBMW now desires to distance the organization from the error of EFS. It would be a shame if their approach to dealing with these errors is to merely remove content from their website. What they must do is refute the errors of EFS and its impious speculations and analogies applied to the Godhead. They must also apologize for their lack of discernment and proper oversight in disseminating those errors to the church; errors that local pastors must now clean up. If CBMW refuses to do this then it will be clear that they continue to stand by those errors. 
 
Something is wrong with this picture. Something rotten is behind this wall of protection and it spells impending danger for reformed evangelicalism. A movement which rushes to protect those who advance error but criticizes, marginalizes, and pulls levers of power against those who shine a light on the errors is a movement not worth supporting. 
 
A big tent which gatherers together incompatible doctrines of the Trinity is too big a tent.
 
Here are a few helpful articles to help you navigate some of the theological categories and implications:
The REF21 series by Alastair Roberts (Here, Here, Here, Here, and Here).
 
 
Posted on Monday, August 08, 2016 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

 

Over at Theology on the Go Jonathan Master hosts an excellent conversation with Liam Goligher on why it matters so much to possess a proper doctrine of God.

 

Check it out HERE.

 

The debate over the doctrine of the Trinity is not over. So far as I can tell, those who have advanced the troubling (a kind euphamism) notion that the Trinity is analogous to husband (the Father), wife (the Son) and child (the Spirit) have not renounced their position. Given the continuing influence of these men and the organizations to which they belong it is still necessary for those who hold to historic orthodoxy to offer public push back. As Goligher points out, their errant doctrine dishonors God and diminishes his people. 

 

Posted on Monday, August 01, 2016 by Todd Pruitt on 1517
 
Last week Donny Friedrichsen offered a thoughtful and friendly response to my post entitled “I am not a complementarian.” As Donny writes in his post, he and I are friends. I point that out because neither of us are being cynical when we refer to each other as “friend.” It’s the truth. 
 
Other than his belief that the word complementarian is still helpful I can’t think of single thing Donny wrote with which I disagree. He and I agree about the Scripture’s teaching concerning the complementary roles of men and women though we may disagree on some of the applications. I am not sure. Thankfully, and more importantly, we agree that the trinitarianism espoused by Drs. Ware and Grudem (and others at CBMW) is problematic. However, Donny argues that complementarian is still an important and useful word.
 
As I wrote in my previous post, my solution when asked about my position regarding complementarianism or egalitarianism is to simply refer to myself as confessional. The confessional standards to which I am bound (the Scriptures, Westminster Standards, Book of Church Order) spell out quite clearly what I believe about the nature and roles of men and women. And I am left wondering: who can improve on those standards? Who would want to try? I suppose that second question has already been answered. 
 
Donny argues that because of the rise of the new sexual revolution and its attending gender chaos it behooves us to have ways to describe our position that are more specific than “confessional.” I do agree with him on that point. That is one of the reasons why Mortification of Spin (both the podcast and blog) has and will continue to dedicate much attention to the current cultural insanity. But it seems to me that when it comes to addressing the confusion and chaos surrounding gender and sexual ethics the word complementarian is completely inadequate. It simply cannot bear the weight of all that is required to affirm biblical anthropology and biblical sexual ethics. 
 
I understand why he desires to retain the word. As I said in my original post, complementarian is a good word. I was always eager to define myself as complementarian. But even Donny acknowledges that it now must be qualified. I suppose something like “biblically Trinitarian complementarian”? That seems a little cumbersome. Of greater importance to me however is that I do not want to be associated with a movement or organization which tolerates and even promotes error on the doctrine of the Trinity.
 
I simply do not know how the word complementarian can be separated from CBMW (Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood). The bottom line is that the bold advancement of Trinitarian error by leaders in CBMW has ruined the word for me. Until CBMW officially rejects the heterodox trinitarianism of some of its key leaders the terms complementarian and complementarianism are hopelessly compromised. 
 
Donny holds out the possibility that there may come a day when he can no longer, for the same reasons I presume, be able to call himself complementarian. For me that day has arrived. 
 
Now, allow me to shift gears a bit. This next part has nothing to do with Donny because I know he rejects the Trinitarian errors among some of the leading lights at CBMW. 
 
This entire debate has been disheartening in more ways than one. It is disheartening because there are men and women associated with CBMW who reject the Trinitarian errors that have been allowed to flourish there but who refuse to say a word publicly for fear of losing their seat at the table. So great is the fear of the top men that silence becomes the preferred posture toward significant theological error. I wish they would speak up and risk the rejection. They will sacrifice some speaking gigs, that is true. They won't be able to write for certain well known blogs anymore. But there is a great deal of freedom in the minor leagues. 
 
It is now clear that the men with seats at the table require a fundamentalist posture regarding complementarianism (“Our way or the high way!”). But when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity they become there's room for everybody big tent broadly evangelical. This intentional move to downplay the importance of the doctrine of God will yield bitter fruit. Indeed, the battles conservatives have won on such doctrines as the authority of Scripture and substitutionary atonement will prove to be short-lived because of the current disinterest to correct heterodoxy in theology proper. 
 
Posted on Tuesday, July 26, 2016 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

There is a crisis at North Point Community Church. North Point is the super duper mega church in Atlanta founded and led by Andy Stanley. Stanley has enormous influence through North Point, his books, and conferences. For many, Andy is the go-to guy when it comes to effective communication and leadership. But there is a crisis at North Point. This crisis is dishonoring to God, destructive to God's people, and threatens the churches influenced by the Atlanta mega church.

If you were expecting some salacious detail or breaking news then this will be rather disappointing to you. The evidence is readily available. Indeeed it is supplied rather proudly by North Point. The sickness at the heart of North Point is on full display in the following video which captures the goings on at a recent woship service.

072416 Opener - 90s Boy Bands from North Point Web on Vimeo.

Perhaps I'm naive but "Love The Way You Turn Me On" should have been a tip off to those in leadership at North Point that something was not right (at this point I don't expect those who continue to attend to have sufficient discernment to recognize what is wrong).

Honestly, I am tired of hearing about good intentions and great results when it comes to garbage like this. This stuff does nothing, absolutely nothing to "reach" anyone. It only confuses. I would not care so much except for the fact that I once served as pastor of a church in Philadelphia where Andy Stanley had influence among some of the top leaders. And there are many other churches whose pastors, youth ministers, and children's directors are influenced by Andy Stanley and North Point. I don't know who has influence in Andy Stanley's life but I hope that among those who do, someone will have the courage to call him to repent of such foolishness. This sort of thing is destructive to the people of God. When imitation of the world is allowed to flourish in a church it is clear that the shepherds have become predators. 

As a side note, you may remember Andy Stanley famously saying in a sermon earlier in the year that people who go to smaller churches are "lazy" and don't care about their children because those churches cannot provide the same sorts of experiences as do big churches like North Point. When I watched this video one of my first thoughts was, "How lazy it is to go to a church like this."

 

Posted on Monday, July 25, 2016 by Todd Pruitt on 1517
 
I need a new way to describe myself. 
 
Since hearing it for the first time I always liked the word complementarian to describe myself in reference to how the Bible frames the differences and similarities between males and females. To the best of my knowledge the words complementarian and complementarianism came directly from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) in the 1980’s. The words were meant to help promote the teaching of Scripture regarding male/female roles (contra egalitarians and evangelical feminists). I happily affirm and teach everything the Bible says about the spiritual leadership of men within the church and the headship of the husband at home. These are important truths grounded in the doctrines of creation and the cross and clearly affirmed in the New Testament. 
 
But I have come to the conclusion that complementarian is no longer a word I can use to describe myself. It is not because I have changed. I have not changed one iota. Unfortunately it has become clear that the word complementarian is freighted with unacceptable doctrine concerning the Trinity and speculations about the roles of males and females in the new creation. 
 
So, I need a new way to describe myself.
 
The vigorous debate over the doctrine of the Trinity which was sparked on this site came about because we and others noticed that the troubling doctrine of the Son’s eternal subordination to the Father (ESS or EFS) was being actively advanced beyond the academic sphere into the realm of popular readership. It was being advanced in books meant for lay persons and even children. Indeed, our response was probably far too slow in coming. 
 
It is also clear that much of the leadership of CBMW remains committed to these doctrines and speculations. Despite appeals from church historians and systematic theologians from various parts of the world the handful of men advancing ESS remain resolute. I simply cannot be associated with those Trinitarian errors and so I cannot be associated with their word.
 
So from now on when people ask me where I am in regard to male/female roles in church and the home I will simply say that I am Confessional. That is, I am part of a church and denomination which has a substantial and clear confession of faith and Book of Church Order both of which speak to these issues. In fact, I have made solemn vows before my church and presbytery that I both believe and will teach according to those documents. Incidentally, one of the things I love about being Presbyterian is that it renders obsolete any parachurch organization dedicated to teachings regarding male and female roles. 
 
If anyone accuses me of being a “thin complementarian” or “stealth egalitarian,” then that will be a clear case of slander since the documents to which I am bound (the Scriptures, the Westminster Standards, and the PCA’s Book of Church Order) make it clear that I am none of those things. My vows will not allow it. So from now on in addition to the other things you call me you may add Confessional.