The Underlying Problem With The Gospel Coalition




Gospel Coalition member Jared Wilson has created quite the stir today with this post about male and female roles in human sexuality.

Not surprisingly, and rightfully so, Rachel Held Evans has responded with just outrage and Scott McKnight has called for The Gospel Coalition to pull down the post. (For what it’s worth I second that call.) Wilson, for his part, has spent the better part of the day attempting to wiggle out of what was, at best, a misguided post.

Without going into a lengthy diatribe about how abhorrent and inappropriate I thought Wilson’s choice of words were, and I think think they were incredibly abhorrent and inappropriate, I thought it important to contribute a few words.

For me, Wilson’s post, along with the seemingly never ending stream of controversial posts that come out of The Gospel Coalition and cohorts such as John Piper and Mark Driscoll points to a fundamental and underlying problem they all share: their neo-Reformed theology.

The basic problem with their particular brand of theology and the reason we won’t see an end to ridiculous posts like this anytime soon, is that neo-Reformed theology subscribes to the idea that God is ultimately responsible for everything that happens.

Literally everything.

That includes evil which is written off to God “merely” allowing it in the name of God’s wrath, God’s judgment, God’s justice, or God’s will. Whether it’s rape, a terrorist attack, murder, abuse, a natural disaster, according to neo-Reformed groups like The Gospel Coalition, these things occur as God’s response to our sin.

Though they may attempt mental gymnastics or simply speak out of both sides of their mouths as Wilson does in his follow up post, God as the ordainer of raper, murder, natural disasters, is the ultimate outcome of the neo-Reformed theology of divine sovereignty.

It is because this sovereignty is so fundamental to their theology, that we should not expect this sort of obscene rhetoric to stop anytime soon, no matter how much pleading and peaceful reasoning we might attempt. Like the jihadist, they are in a spiritual war on behalf of God and any inkling of wavering or doubt in their theology will surely condemn them to hell. Therefore, they will continue with zeal in their hateful theology until kingdom come.

The irony I see in all of this is that in their theological paradigm which rests so much on the tenet of divine sovereignty, God is not, in fact, sovereign.

If Jesus has to die to satisfy God’s wrath, then wrath stands above God.

If God must issue such horrendous judments as rape and natural disasters because God’s justice demands it, then justice stands above God.

Herein lies the true, underlying problem of neo-Reformed theology, for in such a theological paradigm the God of the Bible is replaced by Calvinistic ideas of wrath, justice, and judgment. When that happens, and no matter the mental gymnastics, there is no longer space for the Jesus found in the gospels who offers grace where there should be wrath, forgiveness when there should be judgment, and redemption when there should be justice.

When, as we see in this latest spat over sex, theological paradigms stand above God it becomes impossible for us to see, let alone admit the abhorrent contradictions in some of the things we say because we can’t fathom how something which fits so neatly into our theological system could somehow be wrong. The possibility of which isn’t even allowed to break the surface because to admit such inconsistency would require an act of humility, something the neo-Reformed movement is greatly lacking.

If but a bit of grace could be shown, a bit of tact in how sensitive subjects are addressed, or a bit of reason allowed to enter into the conversation, then perhaps we could find a middle ground to sit peacefully on with our neo-Reformed brothers and sisters in the faith. But, of course, that would require an act of neo-Reformed heresy – rethinking the sovereignty of God.

Unfortunately, and tragically, until The Gospel Coalition and their cohorts choose to allow God out of the theological box of their own creation, I think we can expect to hear such juvenile, graceless, and arrogant theology for a long time to come.

In the meantime, I hope those of us on the other side of the debate, myself included, can find the grace we appeal to so often and engage them in a way that is faithful to the love of Jesus we proclaim with such conviction.


Grace and peace,

Zack Hunt


  • Andrew
    July 18, 2012

    An insightful post, Zack. I’ve been watching the neo-Reformed/Calvinist movement from afar for awhile now, and one thing that I find particularly interesting (which NT Wright has pointed out in his discussion of Jon Piper in his book on Justification) is that the movement is becoming so fervently tied to their doctrine/theology, that it is in many ways a sort of “tradition”, in the same mold as the “tradition” for which Reformers would critique the Catholic Church for adhering to. In the same way they might critique the Catholic Church for being an institution based on power and not the gospel, they themselves have become the very same thing.

    • Zack
      July 18, 2012

      “In the same way they might critique the Catholic Church for being an institution based on power and not the gospel, they themselves have become the very same thing.”

      Great point!

  • michael j. kimpan
    July 18, 2012

    awesome and helpful critique.

  • Malte
    July 18, 2012

    Thank you for this insightful piece, Zack. I think the sort of stuff the Driscolls, Wilsons and Pipers of this world regularly spew does discredit their theology. But I think I’d still like to identify as a Calvinist, if much less of a confident one. The one aspect of Reformed theology I’d really like to hold on to is the notion of successful atonement – that when Christ died and rose, he definitively brought people to God, rather than just open up the door to redemption. Which, to me, is a huge comfort – if we’re willing to stop there and not get into predestination.

    Predestination and the Calvinist notion of ‘divine sovereignty’, to me, seem part of a wider ailment – a theology that wants to discover a Grand Unifying Formula that can explain everything. In reality, our knowledge will always be limited and we should accept that, rather than follow our theology to horrifying places.

    • Monte Harmon
      July 18, 2012

      You have hit on the very point that is a most reassuring doctrine for historical calvinists, that salvation is clearly based on Christ’s atonement for sin. As parts of the modern church are beginning to deny the need for atonement or the ability of Christ to provide it, the views on this doctrine held by all traditions need to be discussed with greater intensity than ever before.

      I’m responding in part because “successful atonement” as you refer to it is the one doctrine that some (many?) modern calvinists don’t accept. It is unusual to hear someone say they accept “limited atonement”/”particular redemption” and reject the other calvinist doctrines instead.

      As for “Grand Unifying Formula” I believe there is one, that is to say Jesus is such and much more, but would concede that as a created being I am unable to comprehend it fully now, and while maybe I will more so when transformed, will never fully as only God can fully comprehend Himself.

      To God Alone be the Glory!

    • Zack
      July 18, 2012

      While I’m not a Calvinist, I think if that’s the theology you identify with yet you can recognize the nonsense when it appears for what it is, then you should definitely stay faithful to your tradition. I love me some John Wesley but he said essentially the same thing to a friend that was considering leaving the Roman Catholic church to become an Anglican. (Go figure a protestant would support Catholicism) For me, the issue isn’t divine sovereignty in and of itself, but the way Driscoll, Piper, et all. warp it/misunderstand it. I have some great and wonderful Calvinists friends (and some who don’t realize their Calvinists) which, for me, just demonstrates that Calvinism doesn’t have to be understood the way it is so often portrayed.

      • Tim Marsh
        July 19, 2012

        I agree…though I am not a Calvinist either, describing their theology as neo-Reformed or, as others do, neo-Calvinist is helpful. True refomed theology does not subscribe to determinism as described by those you have mentioned. I think of Timothy George at Beeson, as a wonderful example of a Calvinist who does not subscribe to complete theological determinism.

        Thank you for a wonderful post!

  • Brian Mahon
    July 18, 2012


    I am thankful that you think you are glorifying God and helping the church by writing what you have written. I am sure that you really believe what you are saying to be right and biblical and edifying, and that is commendable. But I think you’re wrong at several points, brother, and would humbly and lovingly submit a few counter-thoughts.

    First, I think that you think Jared tried to wiggle out of his post. I didn’t get that at all. In fact, I think he defended the original with the second post.

    Secondly, I can only imagine that you think the posts coming from the TGC blog are controversial because you are not Reformed. This, of course, makes sense. Your theological convictions and presuppositions, your starting points and ending points are at odds. However, I would submit to you that TGC posts more than what you might call neo-Reformed rhetoric. I have found the majority of their posts to be exceptionally helpful pastorally.

    Thirdly, I don’t know how you get from the controversial content of Wilson’s post to the underlying problem of your so-called neo-Reformed theology. You start with Wilson and end up hammering Piper and the like. This seems to remove credibility to what you are trying to say because it looks and sounds like a hobby horse. If you want to talk Wilson, talk Wilson, but be careful in linking rape fantasies (which Wilson deplored) to the sovereignty of God. That’s careless and, quite honestly, an infinitely poor leap.

    Fourthly, consider the ministry of a guy like Piper before you dog him and his theology. You are allowed to disagree with the doctrines of grace. But look for fruit, brother. If there is fruit on the vine, thank God for it. And there is, without question, fruit on that vine, as I am sure there is on yours.

    Fifthly, while I cannot speak for all, I think I can speak for most reformed brothers and sisters in affirming the biblical doctrine of compatibalism. God is absolutely sovereign; He creates, sustains, and governs all things. At the same time, human beings are held responsible for their actions. While God is sovereign, He is not the author of sin. Things like rape, murder, terrorism, etc., are sins committed by human beings. Sinners are responsible for their sins. The Wilson’s, Piper, Driscoll, etc., would confess, write and preach this. At the same time, they would, I hope and think, preach the whole Bible. This is not, as you put it, mental gymnastics — although we need some of that in our day, I think! This is the way the Holy Spirit has revealed the one, true and living God. For example:

    “And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, *I will* destroy them with the earth'” (Gen 6.13). So the earth is going to be destroyed. That includes men, women, children, all living creatures, other than those stored in the ark. Who does this? God does.

    Joseph’s brothers are guilty of sin against him, that landed him in a long season of pitiable conditions. But what does the Holy Spirit say, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen 50.20). So they meant evil and, in the same “evil”, God meant it for good, which means that sinners can be held responsible for sin and God be sovereign in and over it but not be the author of it, held responsible for it, and be separate from sinners in it. He has a purpose in the allowance of sin, namely, good, a good that only He, as the Sovereign God, can see and, because He is sovereign, most certainly accomplish. Would you have it be that God wanted to turn this for good but could not?

    Or perhaps Genesis 20, where Abraham gives Sarah to Abimelech in order to save his own hide. And God sovereignly appears to Abimelech in a dream to intervene in a situation that would have compromised the Messianic line and promise of God to Abraham. In other words, because He is sovereign, He is able to faithful to His promises. Would you have it otherwise? A God who is not able to be faithful. Furthermore, as it pertains to this passage, Abimelech claims his innocence in the matter, only to find God saying, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was *I* who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore *I* did not let you touch her” (Gen 20.6). Two things are asserted here: first, Abimelech is affirmed for not sinning *and* God teaches Abimelech that He kept him from sinning. Secondly, and granted an inference, if God keeps sinners from sinning, sinners sin by the allowance of God without Him being the author and approver of it. Another thing in this passage: God threatens to kill Abimelech and all his household if he does not then and there obey God. If God is not able to do this, is this a real threat? One last thing: God had closed all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah (v. 18). *God* closes and opens wombs. God grants conception. He *grants* it; and He does not grant it, and He is sovereign over both.

    Or, out of Genesis now, “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create *calamity*, I am the Lord, *who does all these things*” (Isa 45.7).

    I could go on, but the point is this: you are entitled to think that they are merely doing mental gymnastics, but really they are simply making sense of biblical texts. The sovereignty of God is fundamental to their theology because the sovereignty of God is fundamental to the revelation of Himself in the Bible. In fact, if I am allowed to speak frankly, this post makes no reference to Scripture at all and excels at mental, albeit — I hold — faulty, mental gymnastics.

    Sixthly, comparing brothers in Christ to jihadists’ is unbrotherly and I would humbly exhort you to repentance over that statement. It is just as controversial and provocative as you surmise Wilson’s words to be.

    Seventhly, your logic concerning the wrath and justice of God trumping the sovereignty of God is difficult to understand. I am not sure that it makes much sense. While Jesus died to appease God’s wrath, it is *God’s* wrath and not the other way around. In other words, God is the one who must be appeased, and *His* wrath is simply an expression of *His* justice and holiness made manifest against sin. It simply does not follow that God’s wrath is greater than God because it is *God’s* wrath. If the expression of God’s justice against sin, namely, wrath, manifests itself in the world and supremely in the cross of Christ (which Christ bore for everyone for whom He died), God is only acting in accord with Himself. In other words, God is being God when His justice is manifest against sin. It doesn’t mean that justice is greater than God, but that God is consistent with Himself. By the way, are you saying that Jesus didn’t die to appease and/or satisfy the wrath of God against sinners, so that there is now no *condemnation* for those who are in Christ Jesus? Check out Romans 3.21-26 and all of chapter 5, ad infinitum.

    Eighthly, whether you intend to do this or not, I don’t know, but you seem to posit that God is not just, and therefore does not manifest the glory of His justice in judgment or wrath or, apparently, in the cross of Christ. You seem to be saying that God is strictly love and grace and mercy, for that is how you see Jesus in the Gospels. But neither of these assertions is remotely close to being true according to the Bible. For God is love and merciful and gracious and just. In fact, this is His *glory* (Exod 33.18-34.9). And Jesus is just, displaying judgments, as well as being loving and gracious and merciful. The biblical God is bigger than what you posit Him to be. He stands over us in the biblical text and declares to us who He is. And we are to humbly receive Him as He is, rather than pridefully tell Him who He needs to be. For Jesus condemns the Pharisees (Mt 23), hypocritical self-righteous religion (Mt 5-7), and judges Jerusalem for her rejection of Him and for her fruitlessness (so the cursing of the fig tree, Mk 11.12-25). He tells Judas that it would have been better for him not to have been born, Mk 14.21 (and, oh, how we could talk about the *sovereignty* of Jesus in the Gospels, including His knowledge of Judas’ betrayal, which under the *sovereignty* of the Spirit was written hundreds of years in advance in the Psalms, Psa 69.25; cf. Acts 1.16-20). The biblical God is greater than your portrayal. The biblical Jesus is more glorious than your portrayal. And that is not surprising seeing as Jesus alone knew God in order to exposit Him to us (Jn 1.18).

    Ninthly, “When, as we see in this latest spat over sex, theological paradigms stand above God it becomes impossible for us to see, let alone admit the abhorrent contradictions in some of the things we say because we can’t fathom how something which fits so neatly into our theological system could somehow be wrong. The possibility of which isn’t even allowed to break the surface because to admit such inconsistency would require an act of humility, something the neo-Reformed movement is greatly lacking.” As a matter of humility, you have to be willing to admit that you are talking about yourself here.

    Tenthly, your caricature of the reformed brother or sister is a straw man.

    In the eleventh place, and lastly, be careful with your writing, brother. One moment you speak cynically of reformed brothers and sisters, and the next moment you are talking about grace and humility. It seems to me that you are talking out of both sides of your mouth. On the one hand, you really have a beef with a straw man. On the other, you want to talk Christianly about love, grace, humility, and conformity to Christ. I would posit that your post is hypocritical at the end of the day in this regard. If you are going to be gracious, be gracious.

    Again, Zack, even as the apostle Paul could rejoice at the proclamation of the gospel of Christ by those who did so with improper and sinful motives (to hurt Paul), I do rejoice if you proclaim the true gospel of Jesus Christ, even if in doing so you take shots at those who do the same with pure, gracious, and God-glorifying motives. I hope in Christ that, in your case, His prayer to our Father will continue to be answered: “Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth.”

    Of course, if God is not sovereign, our Lord might not be answered. 😉

    • Seth
      July 18, 2012

      Very well put. A graceful response.

    • Zack
      July 19, 2012

      Wow Brain, I think you may have set the record for the most counterpoints in a single comment!

      But you were mostly civil and I appreciate that, so i’ll try to answer them as best as possible.

      1. Based on his numerous comments on both his post as well as Rachel Evans’ post I would have to respectfully disagree.

      2. I have no doubt that they put out helpful content, but the other stuff they put out, in the eyes of myself and many others, is so bad that it trumps and negates whatever good they may have done.

      3. There is no “leap” here. The underlying problem with both is a particular view of sovereignty. For so-called “complimentarians” they reflect their view of God’s sovereignty by being sovereign over their wives and the church. I find that incredibly problematic.

      4. The horrendous things that spew from Piper’s mouth on a regular basis are part and parcel to his ministry, thus my issue with him.

      5. We obviously have different perspectives on what it means for God to be sovereign.

      6. I understand that this is an uncomfortable comparison. That was sort of the point.

      7. I think the issue here is less the complexity of the idea as much as it is how entrenched your theology is in your thinking. If God “has” to do A because of B, then God is answerable to B and thus B stands above God.

      8. Good question (?). I think God is both just and unjust. The prophets/Jesus/Revelation shows us God’s justice, God’s grace shows us God’s injustice.

      9. I freely admit that I have the capacity to be wrong, even about the things I feel most sure about. Which is exactly why I was talking about the neo-Reformed tradition which through its most prominent proponents has demonstrated a profound refusal to admit the possibility that they may be wrong….about anything.

      10. As my critique was directed to a specific theological tenet that is boldly affirmed by neo-Reformed adherents it is neither a caricature, nor a straw man. Although I understand that accusing me of such makes it easier to dismiss my claims.

      11. The idea that being both critical and gracious is somehow hypocritical is completely absurd. Friends are both critical and gracious. Parents are both critical and gracious. Jesus was both critical and gracious.

      • Monte Harmon
        July 19, 2012

        Zach, Can you provide some links or books showing examples of answer#3? I have not seen this before and would be interested in learning more.

        • Monte Harmon
          July 27, 2012

          Again I would request examples of answer#3.

      • AndrewF
        July 19, 2012

        I think God is both just and unjust. The prophets/Jesus/Revelation shows us God’s justice, God’s grace shows us God’s injustice.

        I don’t think that’s at all helpful to posit grace as injustice. Jesus got injustice – he was innocent and was punished. To be punished when you’re guilty is justice. To be forgiven when you’re guilty is grace. Some of us get grace, some get justice, but none of us gets injustice.

      • AndrewF
        July 20, 2012

        If God “has” to do A because of B, then God is answerable to B and thus B stands above God.

        Not if B = God’s very nature. It simply means he does A because of who he is. You’re basically arguing that God is thus putting himself above himself, which makes no sense. To sustain your argument God has to be devoid of any kind of nature.

        • Zack
          July 20, 2012

          If God’s nature dictates God’s behavior, rather than God’s behavior being decided by God’s choice, then God is still bound and thus subject to that nature.

          • AndrewF
            July 20, 2012

            I don’t think you can separate God from his nature like that though. What God does flows out of who he is. If God does not act because of his nature, then on what basis can we trust any of his promises?

          • AndrewF
            July 21, 2012

            sorry for the multiple comments.. tis a thought-provoking point 😉

            Aren’t you positing God’s freedom to choose how to act as an intrinsic part of his nature? If you can posit certain attributes of God’s nature from which his actions flow (i.e. his freedom to choose.. a calvinistic thought :P) why can’t we also posit other intrinsic aspects of God’s nature from which his actions naturally flow?

      • Brian Mahon
        July 24, 2012


        Counters to your counters,

        1. His most recent post at TGC ushers an explanation, an apology to any offended party, and a reassertion that he didn’t try to wiggle out of the situation. Take it from the horses’ mouth or don’t.

        2. This statement is illogical. If this is so, how can any progress be made for the one faith. Indeed, how can we have any real fellowship with anyone. Forget other brothers or sisters, but how about spouses. If we carry over the same logic, our spouse may do something or say something that is so horrendous that it stains everything else they do or say, and as you say, negates it entirely. But I would hope that this sort of gracelessness would not be carried over practically, however emboldened you may be to write it down here. This also breaks down all learning, and iron-sharpening. You may disagree with it all, but for the sake of intellectual honesty (and I think for the sake of the gospel), you might want to reconsider your unwillingness to at least be challenged by what other godly and humble brothers and sisters have to say. There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors. Why? Because in a multitude not everyone is the same. There is sharpening. But what you have here is anti-sharpening. It is blunting for your soul and unhelpful to teach and spread. We are where we are because of a refusal to be challenged and to think, to love God with all our minds.

        3. This is a leap. People who come up with rape fantasies don’t adhere to the sovereignty of God, I can assure you. People who condone them probably don’t either. Wilson does neither. Both Jared and Doug and Piper and ____________ are appalled at the sin manifest in rape. They all advocate an Eph 5 model for marriage, and Ephesians 5 is in the Bible. And as a matter of practicality, the issue of leadership and submission is natural to the act of sex. Think biologically here, friend. Moreover, as it pertains to the marriage bed, it is not a matter of sovereignty. God’s sovereignty does not spill over into male sovereignty in the marriage, in the bed, in the church. I don’t know where you see them arguing for this. God is sovereign and God has ordained roles for men and women, and invested the performance of these roles with joy and true flourishing. The divestiture of these roles requires the hardening of the heart against the design of God intended to portray the gospel of Christ’s love for His bride. Every aspect of marriage most displays the love of Christ for the church when these roles are lived out — at the grocery store and in the marriage bed. Leap it is!

        4. Again, have you ever read Desiring God or any of his works? Have you ever listened to a sermon of his, I mean really? Not, have you heard what you wanted to hear, but have you listened to what he is saying. It seems to me that you have not listened honestly. He preaches the worth and glory of God, the joy of all peoples in God, the necessity of passionate evangelism, of hungering for God, of having your world revolve around that Sun (Son), etc. And the effect of it has been the worldwide promotion of the glory of God and the joy of many repentant sinners in Him. And this, by the by, results in the joy of angels in heaven. So if this is bad or evil, honestly, give me more of it.

        5. Apparently you are right. What does sovereign mean but sovereign? God reigns and rules and governs and sustains and brings to His desired end all things. He does whatever He pleases (Psa 115.3). Therefore, He cannot be thwarted, nor any of His purposes. This is biblical, no? Before retorting, “No,” just consider the ramifications of Peter’s words in Acts 2.23 about the center of redemptive history, and perhaps His title in Acts 4.24. Again, no mental gymnastics, just divine revelation.

        6. The point is that it is graceless. You call for them to be more humble and gracious, and so we must be. But this is speaking out of both sides of one’s mouth.

        7. I don’t understand the Arminian propensity for theolo-sophy. God has revealed Himself in the Scriptures. But we still see dimly. God is still mysterious. Will you be upset in heaven when you don’t understand all that there is to know about God at once? Heaven is not a static existence, you know. There is ever-increasing joy by ever-increasing comprehensions of God’s infinite glory and beauty and grace. I don’t need to make A do B and B do A. I have to make sense of biblical texts as best as I can by the grace of His Spirit. And if my puny mind can do that and no more, so that there is still mystery, it’s fine. Let it promote wonder! At the end of the day, God’s justice and wrath are *God’s* justice and wrath. To be otherwise would be to fail to be God. He would not be consistent with Himself, which, if He is God, He must be. If He does not exercise His justice against sin, He is not God and He is not good. By the way, His love is not His love without a comprehension of His justice in it. So 1 Jn 4.10, God is love and His love, if it is to be comprehended at all, must be observed supremely in the death of His Son to make *propitiation* for our sins. This is God is love — the gift of Christ to die for sins and appease God’s wrath. Thus, God is love cannot be comprehended apart from the justice of God inflicted upon Christ in our stead. So not one of His attributes is above Him; He is God and they are His attributes, how He expresses Himself. Philosophy must bow to biblical theology; our apprehensions to the biblical text.

        8. I think AndrewF tackles this below. I think he’s right.

        9. This is a fine line to walk. But for the sake of walking it, I’ll resign myself to agree with you in striving for humility before the biblical text and for the sake of love for one another.

        10. The tenet is right. They all affirm the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty. The inferences you make from their affirmation of that doctrine build up a straw man. The accusation stands and, yes, it does make it easier to dismiss your claims. The point is that you want to be taken seriously and, I hope, not just by those who agree with you on every point of doctrine and thought. My hope is that you desire God’s grace to be lavished upon these brothers and sisters, that they would be sanctified by the truth of the Word, and that if particular areas of doctrine need the illumining work of the Spirit, that God would mercifully provide that, even for me. But the straw man, the lumping all together, the showing of warts only is neither to deal honestly with them nor with yourself nor does it lend itself to being helpful to the universal body of God’s people.

        11. You can be critical and gracious, so long as your criticism is gracious, and yours is not. Even as discipline and love are not mutually exclusive, but the former a subset of the latter, so criticism and grace are not mutually exclusive. Criticism does not imply the absence of grace, nor grace the absence of criticism. What I mean to say is that you are writing hypocritically because you want them (us) to be gracious, and you write about the grace of Christ, and you exhort your readers to the same, but your criticism is devoid of grace. I have two children. I discipline them. But my discipline is not loveless. It is not devoid of love. And my love includes discipline. So your criticism should be gracious. But, in my estimation, it is not.

        Again, praying — even now — for your growth in godliness and grace and in the knowledge of our God and Savior.

        As you say, grace and peace,


    • AndrewF
      July 19, 2012

      Excellent response Brian.

      I agree with your 7th point, that the argument about wrath being above God is absurd. Besides which, it easily cuts the other way: one could argue that someone on the Rob Bell side of the fence, for example, is putting love above God. But no, in reality, God is who he is. When he says ‘I am’ and ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy’ when asked what his name and glory are it means that he is sovereign. To say that holding to sovereignty then stops God being God is not only false, but backwards – it’s precisely who God is.

      What I see from Zack’s post, and his response to you is a claim that reformed believers are trying to fit everything into a theological framework, and yet, he is also apparently dismissing particular doctrines (substitutionary atonement?) because of his own assumptions and framework.

      • Zack
        July 19, 2012

        The inability, or unwillingness, to discern between the claim that God “has” to do something as opposed to God choosing to something is what is really absurd.

        And you are correct, I most definitely reject penal substitution.

        • AndrewF
          July 20, 2012

          Are you suggesting that God might choose to act in a way contrary to his own nature?

          On what basis do you reject substitutionary atonement, and what do you do with all the passages that teach that Jesus died in our place to take the wrath of God against our sin (i.e. was it reading the text that led you to this, or a prior framework / assumption)?

          • Zack
            July 20, 2012

            Are you suggesting that God can’t do something?

          • AndrewF
            July 20, 2012

            Are you suggesting that God can’t do something?

            Too-heavy rocks, anyone? As C.S. Lewis so helpfully argued, putting ‘God can’ in front of nonsense is still nonsense. Omnipotence is not the ability to do what isn’t there to be done. To say that God can’t act in a way that is inconsistent with his nature is like saying he can’t make a rock that is too heavy for him to lift.

            It remains for you to show why God might choose to act in a way that is inconsistent with his nature.

          • AndrewF
            July 20, 2012

            To say that God can (or ought to be able to) act in a way that is inconsistent with his nature is like saying he ought to be able to make a rock that is too heavy for him to lift.

        • AndrewF
          July 20, 2012

          In your view, what does the cross of Christ actually achieve?

  • Andy
    July 18, 2012

    Wow Zack, you hit right on the spot. As a student who has been attending Biola University for three years now this is exactly neo-reformed theology and the toxic baggage that comes along with it. Sadly what you describe above is what they teach in the classroom as the only “true form of Christianity”.

  • Seth
    July 18, 2012

    Unfortunately, the last few paragraphs expose what those against “neo-reformed” theology to really be about. There is a lack of honesty that is apparent when one paragraph speaks of grace, and one soon after shows none of it. This cuts both ways, and both sides need a healthy dollop of grace education, but particularly in this context, it was striking.

    An honest reading of Wilson’s posts, as a Christian, rather than a liberal/conservative, arminian/calvinistic/open, egalitarian/complementarian Christian, showed his intent. It’s quite obvious what he was advocating and what he was absolutely against. He’s being charged with things that are just absolutely absurd, and at some point must be repented of, as they are libelous at best and downright evil at worst.

    Unfortunately based on this post and many of the comments to Wilson, discussion is not wanted. In fact, it seems that Wilson was pretty spot-on when he notes that his posts could have been just the excuse that those who disagree with him theologically were looking for, and to be quite honest, I can’t think of anything more abhorrent than the way supposed Christians were speaking to another supposed Christian. I say supposed, because I generally don’t tend to assume the worst in a person. I don’t think it is grace-less to take someone at face-value. I do think it is grace-less to read whatever it is that I desire into a blog post, and then denigrate that person based on my caricature of who I want that person to be. And yes, I think many people are just simply looking for a fight.

    Seriously, what is the world (and the Christian faith) coming to, when a person says what they mean, and that isn’t enough to dissuade their detractors? Talk about grace.

  • Greg D
    July 18, 2012

    Personally, I hope this is the death knell for The Gospel Coalition. Why? Because they are such a poor representation of Christ and present a stumbling block to non-believers who seek Him. Neo-Reformers have a very masculine-driven theology (enter Mark Driscoll) and a very destructive/warrior view of God (enter John Piper), and an arrogant exclusiveness that goes against every principle that I have come to know in Christ Jesus. I can never understand why so many Evangelicals are on board with TGC. But, if you ascribe to a violent God that will allow the senseless torture and maiming of people tossed into a fiery furnace simply because they don’t ascribe to a specific theological bent, then why not ascribe to the views outlined by Wilson, Driscoll, Challies, Piper, and TGC gang.

  • Zack
    July 20, 2012


    For some reason there’s not a “reply” option popping up for your last comments, so I’m replying here. My apologies for the glitch.

    It remains for you to show why God might choose to act in a way that is inconsistent with his nature.”

    Because God is God and can choose to do whatever God chooses. It is because God chooses to to the things God does which makes God good and holy.

    Thanks for the thesis link.

    You’re welcome.

    If God does not act because of his nature, then on what basis can we trust any of his promises?

    Experience, the testimony of scripture, faith, and hope.

    • AndrewF
      July 21, 2012

      Thanks for your reply Zack.

      Because God is God and can choose to do whatever God chooses.

      I agree – that is what it means that he is sovereign: he is who he is, and does as he wills. However..

      It is because God chooses to to the things God does which makes God good and holy.

      This seems to say that God’s nature flows out of the actions he chooses, but as I noted above, that requires him to begin as a kind of empty vessel, with no attributes (apart from sovereignty – are you putting that above God? No, it just shows up the futility of talking about God as being somehow disconnected from his nature and character), when the bible describes God’s eternal nature. So I don’t see how it’s possible to reconcile your view of a contingent nature with the scriptures view of his necessary nature. Again, to say that God acts out of he very nature, who he is, is not putting his nature above himself, it’s simply recognising that he is who he is.

      In thinking over your question

      Are you suggesting that God can’t do something?

      I realised that the answer is indeed ‘yes’ – and I am going to more than suggest it, I’m going to refer to the biblical authors who say so!
      God cannot lie, as we’re told Hebrews 6:18. James tells us that God cannot be tempted with evil (1:13). Are they also putting God’s truth and holiness above God, or are they simply acknowledging that he acts according to who he is?

      “If God does not act because of his nature, then on what basis can we trust any of his promises?”

      Experience, the testimony of scripture, faith, and hope.

      I don’t think you’ve really answered the question though, merely reiterated what my question sought to have grounded. You see, we can only trust our experience with God, and the promises he’s made if he’s faithful. We can only trust the scriptural testimony of God and put our hope in his promises if he is truthful. We can trust God because of who he is: because he is faithful, because he doesn’t change, because he cannot lie, because he is sovereign and will overcome his (& our) enemies. And this is exactly how the writer of Hebrews views it too:

      For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

      (Hebrews 6:13-20 ESV, emphasis mine)

      God swears by himself, by his own unchangeable character, but this does not put his character above God, because God is who he is. It means he is subject to himself, which is what it means to be God in the first place. To say that ‘God cannot’ or ‘God must’ simply means that he is compelled by who he is, to act out of his nature and eternal character.

  • David
    July 20, 2012

    For what it’s worth, I gave my response to your blog and Piper’s comments here.

    I don’t think I actually disagreed with you, but I tried to take a more measured approach.

    • Zack
      July 20, 2012

      Good post. Thanks for sharing!

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