What keeps God’s love from becoming mere maudlin sentimentality? What is the bulwark, the firm foundation, that keeps the love of God from falling into the abyss of universalism, and prohibits us from the idolatry of seeing God as the great grandfather in the sky, filled with woe and sadness at His inability to make us all happy? I suggest to you it is the balance forced upon the person who honors God’s Word by handling it aright, carefully taking into consideration all that the Word says. When we lose our balance in that area, we are liable to fall into any number of serious errors.
Yesterday on the DL I took the last half of the program and played a few clips from the video, Stop and Think. My primary concerns with the video are two-fold: first, it flows from a synergistic, man-centered view of the gospel, where God’s primary concern is not His own glory, nor the creation of a people in Christ Jesus (the church) who, as a body, will be presented without spot and blemish, but the individual self-fulfillment and happiness of sinners. Secondly, there is a biblical mandate to proclaim the “whole counsel of God,” to hold back nothing the Holy Spirit has deemed important enough to reveal in Scripture and preserve for us today. The gospel by definition includes the wrath of God, repentance from sin, denial of self, all focused upon the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. To put it briefly, my problem with the video is this: the gospel exalts the Triune God and humbles man. It takes our eyes off of ourselves and puts them on our Creator. God gets bigger, we get smaller. God becomes Lord, we become servants, slaves. I do not see this being presented in the video. I see man being made the focus of God’s attention; I see God presented as seeking, equally, a “relationship” with each individual, without distinction, and experiencing rejection and failure when the creature spurns His appeal. Rather than the gospel being a command, it is reduced to a series of suggestions all based upon the improvement of man’s life (rather than His own glory and authority as Creator). Sin is “messing up,” it is “junk from the past,” rather than a slap in the face of a holy God, bringing certain punishment unless forgiven. In other words, the focus is on man, not on the risen Christ. What is missing ends up vitiating even the good and right things that are said. I repeated myself over and over again on the program: What you win them with is that you win them to. A gospel that does not challenge the sinful sovereignty of the rebel soul will fill your church with religiously hypocritical rebels, nothing more.
Now, I knew there would be some interesting replies to my comments, but I honestly did not think once about what Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, would have to say. I just don’t read that spectrum of the net any longer. In fact, I didn’t give much thought to what anyone in particular would think. I don’t run my comments through a political filter, I assure you. So I was a bit surprised when I was directed by a friend from Australia to Spencer’s reply to my comments. Here it is in full:
The heart of the matter
Well….I just heard it about as plainly from a prominent reformed debater and apologist as one can hear it: We can tell everyone about Gods desire to glorify himself, but you cannot tell all people everywhere that God loves them and sent Christ to save them from hell.
Im stunned beyond being stunned at whats come of this entire discussion. In one sense, I am grateful. I hope a few thousand college students and young leaders of new churches and others hear this blatant condemnation of the Gospel proclaimed by Francis Chan as a man centered gospel because it is an offer to all people to accept Gods love in Jesus and as not the gospel at all.
Young leaders. Acts 29 pastors. Church planters. SBC leaders and pastors. ARE YOU LISTENING? This is the choice you have to make. THIS is the response of some significant Calvinists to the concerns in the SBC about Calvinist commitment to missions and evangelism. Just Stop and Think isnt the Gospel according to these Calvinists. If you believe it, you will be in love with yourself, not Jesus. Turn that over a few times in your mind.
Now, when I first read this, I struggled to even see the connection to what I said and what Spencer heard. I know I will never get a fair hearing from this man, and I do not believe that it is because I am not clear in what I say, or why I say it. His self-professed “issues” with his past experiences preclude any equitable analysis of anything I might say or do. There surely is nothing here of substance as far as response or critique, so why am I mentioning it? Because of its blatant, obvious, unapologetic misrepresentation of what I actually said, and why I said it. Notice the first statement. “We can tell everyone about God’s desire to glorify himself, but you cannot tell all people everywhere that God loves them and sent Christ to save them from hell.” Notice the less-than-honest shift: I say “neglecting the God-centeredness of the Gospel leads to great damage to all involved.” Spencer hears “White says you can only say God is glorifying Himself and you can’t speak of God’s love.” God’s love is awesome. God’s love is shown every day in this world. God’s love in Christ glows with spectacular brilliance only against the biblically mandated backdrop of His holiness, wrath against sin, and perfect provision of salvation in Jesus Christ. To disengage God’s love from His own glory, His own purposes, and His own freedom of saving as He chooses in Christ Jesus reduces it to mere human sentimentality. God’s love is not in doubt: it has been proven, beyond all doubt, by an empty tomb. It has been proven in a self-giving Savior. But it is only experienced salvifically by those who bow the knee to Christ and confess His name in true faith. God’s love in Christ Jesus is not experienced by those who remain lovers of their sin.
Spencer hopes SBC pastors see this “blatant condemnation of the Gospel proclaimed by Francis Chan as a man centered gospel because it is an offer to all people to accept Gods love in Jesus.” Of course, I never suggested any such thing. This is Spencer’s filter, his bias, nay, his well-documented bigotry, coming to the fore yet again. Where did I say anything even slightly akin to this caricature? Why is it that if you honestly note the full spectrum of the gospel as proclaimed by the apostles you are automatically accused of limiting the range of proclamation? The gospel is not a bare “offer” to all people to accept God’s love in Jesus: it is first a command to repent and turn, and then it is in fact a wide and broad and glorious proclamation that the love of God in Christ Jesus is freely experienced by all, Jew and Gentile, who in faith turn to Christ! But that does not mean you have to reduce the sovereign Creator to a suitor begging for acceptance by the almighty rebel! God’s love in Jesus is specifically limited by divine revelation to those who are repentant and who have faith in Jesus Christ the risen Savior. To promise the love of God to those who continue in love with their sin is not only unbiblical, it is treasonous. If you do not include this in the message so as to avoid making the love of God in Christ Jesus a mere sentimental attitude on God’s part you will end up filling the church with rebels who think they are right with God—wait, sorry, that’s exactly what we are seeing today! The love of God and the grace of God are both powerful and purposeful. Man wants both to be general, non-specific, and, most importantly, under the control of the will of man.
So I do thank Mr. Spencer for listening to the program. I wish he could hear me with a semblance of balance and fairness. But I know he cannot. But I thank him for listening and commenting anyway, because it has given me the opportunity of fleshing out some important elements of the discussion. The more I listen to what is being said about this video and the issues it raises, the more I am convinced that the cheap-grace movement (Hodges, Wilkin) has so infected modern American evangelicalism that radical surgery is its only hope—and the only surgeon who can perform that operation with any chance of success is the Spirit Himself.