Archive for December, 2009

Human Sympathy vs. Missionary Compassion

Are some people more lost than other people? Should the current deprivation of some people create more motivation for missions than the relative prosperity of other people?

I was thinking about these questions as I reflected on the (too-oft) tendency for missionary appeals to concentrate our attention on the temporal deprivations of people in faraway places. I am sure you’ve seen them. Pictures of slums, starving children, moral debauchery. Statistics about poverty, sickness, unemployment, crime.

Please don’t misunderstand me. All of these things ought to provoke compassion in us. They ought to bother us because sin and its effects ought to bother us. But do any of them really provide direct motivation for the spread of the gospel? Are healthy, prosperous, intact families living in nice homes less motivating?

I know this may seem like an odd question, but I think it is an important one. The tendency to motivate Americans for missions by appealing to the deprivation of other people is really a base attempt to turn our materialism into an ally of the gospel. Instead of seeing people as headed toward an eternity apart from Christ, they are presented as objects of our pity because of their desperate circumstances. If you doubt that this is what’s happening, imagine the presentation full of rich kids dressed in designer clothes or young adults chatting in a Starbucks.

Why does one conjure up the idea of being lost and the other doesn’t? Have we subtly confused the promise of the gospel with the American dream? Is it possible we have become more concerned about the temporal welfare of people than their eternal destiny?

Don’t read this as arguing against compassion. I am arguing against the misuse of human sympathy and the danger of misdirected compassion. As I said, I am thinking about it and wanted to encourage you to do the same.

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A Bronx Declaration

Okay, how about a little thought experiment. Let’s suppose that we decide to write a declaration that expresses mutual concern regarding important moral issues, yet we make sure that it does not grant mutual recognition of one another’s standing with God apart from the biblical gospel. What if we wrote something that began like this:

The signers of this declaration want to be very clear about our purpose and its intent. We do not want to minimize or ignore the significant theological differences that stand between us as Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Evangelical Protestant. Frankly, the differences between us define the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we do not in any way want to obscure those differences.

We are not signing, therefore, because of our agreement, but in spite of our disagreements. Although we disagree about the gospel of Jesus Christ and the nature of saving faith, we have mutual concern about the important moral and religious challenges of our day. These issues…

Here’s the question, do you think that the authors of the Manhattan Declaration would be prepared to sign the Bronx Declaration? What about the other signatories? If they would not, why would that be? Is it possible that refusing to sign the Bronx Declaration would show that the Manhattan Declaration really had two purposes—a statement on social issues and a statement of ecumenical unity?

Just so I am clear, I don’t believe that some of the conservative men who signed the Manhattan Declaration intended to forge an ecumenical relationship which compromises the gospel by giving Christian recognition to people without a credible profession of the gospel. That wasn’t the intent, but it is the result. That makes it, in my mind, a wrong decision based on bad judgment. As I told a group of seminary students last week, I think a charitable interpretation of this matter recognizes the gap between deliberate pursuit of theological ecumenism and a wrong decision based on bad judgment.

That said, I still think signing the Manhattan Declaration is analogous to what Peter and Barnabas did in Galatians 2 in that “they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel” (v. 14). It has been encouraging to see some men, following Paul’s example, willing to speak out publicly on this. We have no right or biblical warrant to win the social battle and lose the gospel doing it.


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An Exercise in Missing the Point…

or making your opponents’ point for them.

This post offers something of a counter-argument to those who oppose the Manhattan Declaration, but it actually illustrates the point of most MD objectors. Its author arrives at his conclusion with these words, “I think the document is helpful in what it articulates and how it is drawing together Christians from different traditions. I do not have to deny the gospel in order to affirm the document, and I am a “catholic” Christians (sic) who believes we should seek common ground with others who identify themselves as Christians around the world. This document is a good way to do it.”

So, we should embrace the MD because it forges an alliance of those “who identify themselves as Christians around the world” regardless of what they believe about the gospel. I think that is precisely why so many of us have objected to it, isn’t it?

Is anybody else bothered by the growing tendency to speak of substantial disagreement on the gospel itself as a matter of “different traditions”? It’s almost as if we’re talking about when to give out Christmas gifts—“Our tradition is to do it on Christmas Eve; other people do it on Christmas Day, but we’re both still celebrating Christmas and that’s what’s important.” That may be fine for something like that, but can we really say, “We believe it is justification by faith alone in Christ alone; other traditions aren’t as comfortable with that word alone, but we’re all still Christians and that’s what is important.”

If ignoring the gospel is the key to being non-sectarian, then mark me down in the sectarian category.

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On Faith and Good Works

Someone wrote to me asking for a clarification about something I wrote in this post. Specifically, I wrote “As I said earlier on this subject, the Manhattan Declaration represents another step toward accepting the false notion that being a Christian is demonstrated by doing something about social issues.” I think you can pick up the gist of their concern from the reply I sent. I reproduce it here because I think a valid question was asked and I wanted to make my point more clearly in light of it.


Thank you for your question about the statement in my recent post regarding the Manhattan Declaration and J. I. Packer’s view of Mother Teresa. It is a good question and highlights the fact that what I wrote does not address the issue fully enough, thereby allowing more inferences than is helpful.

My intention was to say that “doing something about social issues” is not a sufficient proof of genuine Christianity by itself—as if one could be considered a Christian on that basis alone. I assumed that the context of my comment would make that more clear than it apparently did. What I quoted from Packer about Teresa was the basis for my statement. He, seeming to know full well that she did not accept Sola Fide, was prepared to consider her a Christian by virtue of what she did for others. Perhaps a better way to have stated it would have been something like, “the Manhattan Declaration represents another step toward accepting the false notion that doing something about social issues makes one a Christian.” That was my concern.

Another way to answer would be suggest that you might be assuming too much when you use James 2:17 as you have. You wrote, “Maybe I’m totally misreading your article, because I cannot think of any other way true faith can be ‘demonstrated’ other than by ‘doing’.  I’m thinking along the lines of James 2:17: ‘So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.’” I am sure we’d both agree that the theological context of James’ statement presupposes genuine faith, not any kind of faith. He is not arguing for works apart from faith, but works as the fruit of genuine faith. So, I’d say that another way in which true faith can be demonstrated is by the clear confession of it. I am sure that James is talking about a faith that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (1 John 4:2) and that Jesus is the Christ (1 John 5:1). In other words, it is a biblical faith that has been openly confessed that is demonstrated by works. If one’s confession is heterodox, good works would prove nothing.

Likewise, I think James would assume that such faith believes that a man “is justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24) and that a man is “justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law” (Gal 2:16). And that’s the problem with what Packer wrote about Teresa and what I think the Manhattan Declaration implies about all of its signers. The most Packer could say about Teresa was that she was sure of “the historic faith” and the most Packer, and the evangelical signers, can say about the non-evangelicals associated with the Manhattan Declaration is that they have that same kind of faith. Which really means they affirm the statements from 1 John, yet reject Sola Fide.

So, if we stipulate (and I’ll assume we both do) that James is speaking of a biblically defined saving faith, then I agree completely that the genuineness of that kind of faith is demonstrated by works. If, however, it is being said that works demonstrate that any kind of faith is saving faith, then I disagree wholeheartedly. I imagine that you do as well. I would be pleased to learn that Mother Teresa accepted the biblical teaching of justification by faith alone, but I have seen no evidence of that, only evidence to the contrary. Her good works, therefore, do not prove anything positive about her standing as a Christian. More likely, they prove that she was seeking to establish her own righteousness (cf. Rom 10:3).

Thank you for writing for clarification. I hope this helps make my intended point more clear.

For the sake of His name,

David M. Doran

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In-Credible Christianity

Although I’ve been clearly critical of the Manhattan Declaration (MD), I am thankful to God that it has generated a very important and valuable discussion about the boundaries of legitimate cooperation and, using the buzzword of our day, co-belligerence. I am particularly thankful for the many solid expressions of concern and opposition to the kind of co-belligerence that the MD represents. I’ve highlighted a number of these earlier, but I’d like to encourage you to also read this post by Nicholas Batzig.

For more confirmation, in my mind, of what the MD represents, consider what James Kushiner writes at Mere Comments,  “As a statement made by Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians (of many varieties) it does represent the strongest expression of what the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus called the New Ecumenism, which is, to use the words of J. I. Packer, who also signed the Declaration, ‘those who confess the Creed and mean it.’” In other words, the New Ecumenism acts as if the Reformation didn’t happen and it studiously avoids the issue of justification by faith alone in Christ alone.

Assuming that the Creed mentioned is the Apostles Creed, we’re being asked to form union with others on the basis of belief in the forgiveness of sins without agreement about how that is accomplished. Basically, the Reformed Anglican Professor and the Roman Catholic Bishop decide that their agreement about the outcome (forgiveness of sins) can cover over their disagreement about how that happens (justification by faith alone). As is often the case, what they disagree about is what really matters here—there is no forgiveness of sins apart from the good news that God saves sinners on the basis of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

It seems that the almost immediate and constant accusation thrown at those who object to something like the MD is that we are saying that no Catholic or Eastern Orthodox people are genuinely Christian. This, in my mind, is a bogus objection to our, or at least my, view. I’ll not speak for others, but my view on this matter is fully informed by the fact that I cannot see inside anybody else’s soul. I have no regeneration-o-meter that I can wave across someone to tell if he has been born again.

All I can do, and, I believe, all the professing church can do is examine the credibility of a person’s profession of faith. Is the claim to be a Christian credibly made? That means I have to have some biblical basis for evaluating its credibility. Thankfully, God has given us plenty of instruction about this matter, both positive and negative. John’s first epistle alone provides us with incredible pastoral insight about the difference between true and false claims. The evidence of genuine spiritual life (or lack thereof) includes matters of creed and conduct.

Clear biblical texts lay the responsibility on the church to not allow into or keep within it those who reject apostolic doctrine (cf. Rom 16:17-18) and/or live contrary to their profession of faith (cf. 1 Cor 5:10-13). In other words, the church cannot accept the credibility of their claim to be a Christian and part of the true church. We are not capable of making a final determination on whether they really are or not, but we obligated to deal with what we can judge, namely, that their doctrinal denial or unrepentant disobedience make their claim to be a Christian not credible.

So, applying this to the case at hand, I believe a text like Galatians 1:6-9 makes it very clear that if anybody proclaims a gospel which is contrary to the one Paul preached then that person’s claim to be a Christian is not credible. What else could Paul mean by saying “he is to be accursed” (Gal 1:8b, 9b)? Are we to think that Paul would use that language then throw his arm around those who teach such things? No, Paul would want that leaven removed, not embraced (cf. Gal 5:7-12). The church cannot extend fellowship to those who, by faith or practice, deny the gospel without destroying its own credibility.

Is it possible, to borrow a cliché, that the heart might believe better than the head? Even if I grant that, it doesn’t contradict my point—in fact, it proves it. The very fact that we have to create caveats like that shows that we are not sure if that person is saved or not. There is a serious credibility issue. Although not popular to say, I contend that it is wrong, even sinful, to accept as valid anybody’s profession of faith who intelligently and openly embraces a system that teaches baptismal regeneration and denies Sola Fide. To do so sins against both God and man.

The real question isn’t, are there Christians in the Catholic church? It is, is the Catholic church genuinely Christian? Or, to use more biblical terms, is it preaching the gospel that Paul preached or is it under the curse that Paul declared on those who preach another gospel? And, the question that follows from that is, can I accept as credible the profession of Christian faith made by someone who embracing that false system?

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Talk isn’t enough

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned the conflict between J. I. Packer and David Martyn Lloyd-Jones over Packer’s co-authorship of a work entitled Growing into Union. That work had four authors, all Anglican, but two of which represented the Anglo-Catholic perspective. Though the four men disagreed on some significant issues, they were agreed about their opposition to a proposed arrangement between the Anglican and Methodist churches. It was an early example of Packer’s openness to ecumenical co-belligerence. The fact that this effort happened in the late 60s and was published in 1970 is proof, according to Alister McGrath, that more recent efforts like Evangelicals and Catholics Together reflect Packer’s settled convictions on the matter. So we’re clear, McGrath agrees with Packer and cites this as a positive proof of his convictions and character, not as evidence of a deep and persistent failing. That’s my view, not McGrath’s.

Because I raised the subject, I thought it might be interesting and illuminating to see how Dr. Lloyd-Jones handled the matter. Iain Murray includes a letter from Lloyd-Jones to Packer in his recent shorter work on the Doctor (Lloyd-Jones: Messenger of Grace). The context of the letter relates to the Puritan Conference, actually started by Packer, but at this point men like John Caiger, David Fountain, and Lloyd-Jones were also involved in leading it. Apparently the latter three men had a meeting to discuss the problem posed by Packer’s involvement with the Anglo-Catholic men. Here are two quotes from the letter explaining their decision to pull out of the conference:

In the Fellowship we spent morning and afternoon discussing Growing into Union. The general opinion there, without a single voice to the contrary, was that the doctrinal position outlined in that book cannot be regarded as being evangelical, still less puritan. The three of us therefore feel, most reluctantly, that we cannot continue to co-operate with you in the Puritan Conference. To do so would be at the least to cause great confusion in the minds of all Free Church evangelical people and indeed also a number of Anglican people.

This I feel sure will not come as a surprise to you as you must have known that the views expounded in the book concerning Tradition, Baptism, the Eucharist and Bishops, not to mention the lack of clarity concerning justification by faith only, could not possibly be acceptable to the vast majority of people attending the Puritan Conference.

I don’t want to make too much of what Lloyd-Jones says here, but I think we see here some of the practical realities of ecumenical compromise and the need to separate from it. On Packer’s side of the compromise is the damage done to his own views by their being partnered with the false views of his associates. Ecumenical efforts always look for common ground, which means they tend toward synthesis rather than antithesis. From Lloyd-Jones’ perspective, maintaining continued cooperation would send mixed messages about his own views on these important matters. His sense of obligation to biblical truth left him without a pleasant option. He did not want to break from Packer, but he also could not compromise his convictions.

Obviously, how Lloyd-Jones responded is not normative; only Scripture is. But it is informative, and I believe history has vindicated the wisdom of his stand. What Lloyd-Jones saw coming has indeed come. Taking this stand, like Spurgeon in the century before, made him the object of much ridicule, but he was right. He spoke up, and then backed up his words with consistent actions.

There is a lesson here for those concerned about gospel purity. Half measures don’t work. It’s time for evangelicals to stop trimming the weeds and pull them out by the root. The root is extending Christian recognition and fellowship to those who have denied essential doctrinal truths. You know, like writing a document that says “We are Christians who have joined together…” in spite of the fact that some who sign it actually promote a gospel other than the one that Paul preached (cf. Gal 1:6-9).

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Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge

Shortly before the Manhattan Declaration came out I was very disappointed by a discovery I made at the back end of the second edition of J. I. Packer’s Rediscovering Holiness. This new edition contains an afterword entitled “Holiness in the Dark: The Case of Mother Teresa.” I scanned it quickly then, but did not make time to give it a thorough reading until this morning. Very disappointed is an understatement.

To cut to the chase, Packer wants to address the “problem of felt abandonment by God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, within the frame of full commitment to God: in other words, the desolation and seeming desertion of the deeply devoted” (italics original, p. 249), and he believes that Teresa’s struggles can be helpful for all of us—even to the point of thanking God “for Mother Teresa’s example, which points the way ahead for us all” (p. 263). In case you are unaware of her stuggles, Packer informs us that “after two decades of constant joyful intimacy with Christ, from 1948 on—that is, for 49 years, during the whole time of her leadership of the Missionaries of Charity—felt abandonment was the essence of her experience. Behind all the cheerful, upbeat, encouraging, Christ-honoring utterances that flowed from her during these years in a steady stream lay the permanently painful sense that, quite simply, God had gone, leaving her in aching loneliness, apparently for all eternity” (p. 250).

Packer bases the entire afterword on the premise that Teresa is a genuine believer, in spite of her devotion to Roman Catholic teachings. Packer tries to explain how she could experience such darkness and begins by explaining away several options:

  • “This was not an experience of doubt …. She was always sure of the historic Christian faith and of the grace that flows from Jesus, particularly as she believed through the Mass; she had no doubt about the administrative procedures of the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church; she had absolute confidence in the love of the Lord Jesus for herself and for everyone else, including the poorest of the Indian poor, whom Hindu society wrote off as valueless; she was totally convinced that she was called to take the love of Christ to them; and she was ever a human dynamo in furthering this project” (p. 261).
  • It was not “passing through the dark night of the soul as Catholic tradition conceives it; for that darkness, however similar while it lasts to Teresa’s, is temporary, leading on to experiential union with God, whereas Teresa by her own testimony had known experiential union with Christ in particular for 20 years before the pain of inner darkness became her permanent condition” (p. 261).
  • “Nor, again, was she undergoing an experience of detection, God sending her pain to alert her to issues of repentance and obedience that she had evaded. Quite apart from the fact that the inner darkness spanned her whole half-century of leadership, it is safe to say that there were no problems of that kind in Teresa’s life” (p. 261).

This is so mind-boggling that I am not sure where to start. How Packer can conclude any of this is beyond my ability to understand—he is prepared to look into her soul and assure us that she had no doubt, that she truly experienced union with God, and that she had no problems with repentance or obedience? I know Packer is much more intelligent than I am, but I don’t think even he can see inside a soul with such clarity.

And his conclusions fly in face of sound theology. How can she not have doubt when her salvation is based on the administration of the Mass rather than the finished work of Christ? I’ve seen no evidence that Teresa believed the gospel of grace and significant evidence from her own words that would suggest that she didn’t. Packer seems to ignore the possibility that her devotion to Jesus was not gospel-based, or that it might not have even been the Jesus of whom Paul preached (cf. 2 Cor 11:4).

Some wonder why many of us are making such a big fuss about the Manhattan Declaration, and I’d submit that it is because some of us see a dangerous drift happening. Packer, who signed the MD and also the original ECT document, is representative of this drift. It seems, and this deserves further exploration, that Packer’s initial steps in this direction started in the mid-1960s, then bloomed more fully in the decade following. Packer’s biographer, Alister McGrath, acknowledges that Packer’s support of ECT “can be seen to rest on precisely the theological foundations developed by Packer in England during the 1970s” (J. I. Packer, p. 160). Specifically, Packer took the side of evangelical ecumenism in opposition to Lloyd-Jones in 1966, then co-authored a work with two Anglo-Catholics in 1970 (Growing into Union) that many evangelicals felt conceded too much biblical ground on critical doctrinal issues. The publication of that work led to the formal break between Lloyd-Jones and Packer, bringing an end to the Puritan Conferences.

I think this backdrop is important so that we see this issue in relation to the larger issues. Too many defenses of the signers of the MD err precisely by seeing only this document, not the larger questions on the table and trends at work. Once ecumenism has been embraced, common ground becomes the goal. That almost without fail means that differences are minimized or dismissed altogether. Perceived piety or devotion to good works gradually trump soundness on the gospel as the evidence of genuine Christianity. That seems like the only way to explain how Packer can claim that Teresa is a model Christian because “what one does for others is the real test of the genuineness and depth of one’s love to God, and specifically to Jesus Christ the Lord” (p. 262).

As I said earlier on this subject, the Manhattan Declaration represents another step toward accepting the false notion that being a Christian is demonstrated by doing something about social issues. It seems clear to me that J. I. Packer has taken that step.

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Holy Hush or Nervous Chatter

I was working on some notes for teaching homiletics and came across a quote I had highlighted years ago. It wasn’t related to the lecture I was actually preparing, but was to a discussion we had recently had in another ministry course. It resonated in my heart like it did when I first marked the words in the book. I share them for your meditation, especially those of us who lead God’s people in worship:

If you endeavor to bring a holy hush upon people in a worship service, you can be assured that someone will say that the atmosphere is unfriendly or cold. All that many people can imagine is that the absence of chatter would mean the presence of stiff, awkward unfriendliness. Since they have little or no experience with the deep gladness of momentous gravity, they strive for gladness the only way they know how–by being light-hearted, chipper, and talkative (John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, p. 51).

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