To read something I disagree with on the Internet is not an unusual thing. When what I disagree with comes from a source that I respect – highly respect – it makes me somewhat uncomfortable. When the source I respect seems to oppose what I hold, well that is just down-right disappointing.
But that is the experience I have had these past few days while reading 9 Marks January/February 2010 e-Journal.
For those unfamiliar with them, 9 Marks is a ministry of Capital Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C., their pastoral staff and friends, and in particular Senior Pastor Mark Dever. 9 Marks, as the name suggests, is committed to helping local congregations achieve health through focsuing on what they consider to be the 9 major or essential characteristics of a healthy church. There are no gimmicks. There are no secrets. 9 Marks is simply committed to helping churches be thoroughly Biblical. And for that reason I hold them in high esteem.
I have long benefitted from 9 Marks. Each month or so I peruse their e-Journal. In fact it is one of the few e-periodicals I receive that, if I do not have time to read it when it comes, I download and save until I have the time. Sometimes they are a little on the critical side, but because they are committed to conserving the Gospel, I usually overlook items or areas I consider the writers to be a little narrow or cranky. I have learned from them. I have been challenged by them. And I have passed on articles for others to consider.
My respect for 9 Marks has not diminished. I urge readers, pastors and normal people alike, to click the links I have provided, aquaint yourself with the 9 Marks, listen to their Audio Interviews and lessons, and browse the past issues of their e-Journal. But, somewhat like a teenager who first recognizes that a parent, teacher, coach, or mentor, does not have their act entirely together, I find myself in an odd and disappointing position – I find that some who are my superiors in almost every way are nevertheless missing something very important.
In the January/February 2010 e-Journal the theme is: The New Evangelical Liberalism. I concur with 9 Marks that a liberalization of the Gospel offers no real hope to a broken world. So I was disappointed that they lumped into that category those with holistic and missional approaches to ministry. I hold both. And I am no theological liberal.
In the opening paragraph of the Introduction to this issue the editor, Jonathan Leeman, writes:
“As soon as we let the world influence the terms of the church’s life and mission, we have let another authority enter the house and tie up the king of the church, Christ.”
On this point 9 Marks misses the mark.
To be fair, in the final sentence of his Introduction Leeman asks for patience and correction where they overstep. Thus I assume, if challenged, the authors would agree that not all missional and holistic practitioners are rightly lumped into the category of neo-liberal.
My desire here is to offer 9 Marks the “loving correction” they ask for. Further I have also seen these indescriminate views of 9 Marks evident in others whom I respect. Perhpas this is why I feel compelled to write.
First, let me say, in the articles I found no qualifiers that seperate the Gopel-driven from the others. Nor was there any apparent recognition that within the missional movement there is a wide theological spectrum.
I concede that within the missional & holistic movements there are those who hold some odd and unsavory theological positions. I also recognize that those who traditionally promote a mere Social Gospel claim a holistic approach.
But many of the most effective proponents and practioners are not only theologically conservative, but hold to the Doctrines of Grace and the historic Reformed Faith. (Ed Stetzer, Mark Driscoll, and Tim Keller, to name a few.) To assign all into the camp of liberalism is label that is inaccurate, and even offensive. It is also uncharitable.
Second, 9 Marks runs the risk of being divisive. Simply put: If all who are missional are characterized as liberals there is a possibility that some who are actually conservative and Reformed Evangelicals will still be excluded from networks and some ecclesiastical fellowships. In other words, there are some “Champions of he Gospel” who will erroneously be inclined to perceive us as “unclean” and won’t invite us to their party. That is divisive.
The sad irony, I believe, is that it is the anti-missional crowd that is naively guilty. They are guilty of ignorance and even some hypocrissy.
My assertion of ignorance is obvious to observe. They are without knowledge about what they categorically oppose. I’ll elaborate on that in a moment.
I say this with all the humility I can muster: Yes.
For example, Leeman’s Introduction statement I took issue with above. Of course the world dictates certain aspects of our mission!
- Take language for instance. We do ministry in the language of the culture we serve. The culture dicatates this.
- Another example is prophetic confrontation of culture: The Gospel comes to bear differently on the surface in, lets say, San Fransisco than Salt Lake City. One is a model of licentiousness and the other of self-righteousness. Yes, the root is the same, but how we address the culture is dictated by the culture we are in. Would missionaries at Vatican City approach people the same way as those in Tehran?
Cultural contextualization does not necessarily mean a compromise of the Gospel. Certainly some do compromise, but not all who contextualize do. The above illustrations are obvious. 9 Marks and others practice these – and other – contextualizations in their own ministry venues. Yet they still lump those who are openly contextual, as part of their missional approach, as being neo-liberal. That seems like hypocrissy to me.
One last observation, relatinging to ignorance, that may explain the problem evident in the recent 9 Marks e-Journal. The word is perspective. Rather the word is: Tri-Perspective, as in the Tri-Perspectivalism introduced by theologians John Frame & Vern Poythress.
In short, Tri-Perspectivalism is the contention that ministry ought to reflect all three offices of Christ: Prophet, Priest, and King. Each office, or perspective, is reflected in a different aspect of Ministry:
- Prophet – What God says; Sound Doctrine, Bible, etc.
- Priest – Spiritual Vitality & Renewal
- King – Mission; Kingdom Advancement & Implementation
In a tri-perspectival approach, adopted by many Gospel-driven, conservative, Reformed practitioners of missional ministries, all three are essential and equal.
- There is no compromise of doctrine in the name of mission, because that would be a failed mission. The mission, simply put, is to make God known. That requires sound doctrine.
- There is no goal of mission without lives and relationships (and communities) being renewed by the Gospel; and there is no understanding the gospel without sound doctrine.
- And there is no effective teaching of the Gospel without the objective of seeing individual and communal lives transformed and renewed, and a corresponding propulsion in gospel-driven mission.
When only one perspective or two perspectives dominate, ministry is distorted.
I suspect part of the problem is that 9 Marks is an admirable Prophet but not equally reflecting the King-ship of Christ. They are not alone in this. I suspect many who are guardians of the Gospel share this myopic perspective. As do some who compromise sound doctrine in the name of mission – which should be the real targets of 9 Marks’ pen. (And some are just “liberal” as 9 Marks asserts.)
Let’s take some planks out of our eyes that are inhibiting our perspective. Then let’s speak the truth in love and gently correct one another. No more name calling and labeling… What’a ya’ say?